beer and the great fiery ball of death

this weekend was filled with all things beer. friday evening i had to make a run to home depot for some last minute parts to go with the shiny new Foxx counter pressure bottle filler (CPBF) that i bought from Paddock Wood Brewing Supplies. this was followed by a couple hours of sorting through my bottle stockpile and cleaning up enough for my raspberry porter. sometimes brewing can be hard work, but it’s worth it in the end.

saturday morning i was up fairly early to start a fun filled day. first stop was the wine and beer factory for some specialty grains and hops for sunday’s brewing session. from there i headed into downtown toronto to jayc’s place. the first order of business was hooking up the CPBF and transferring the porter from my keg to bottles. initially there was alot of mess as porter sprayed all over and foamed out of the bottles, but after a bit we figured out that the pressure needs to be set slightly lower than what the beer was carbonated at, things went better. the beer was carbonated to a pressure of 12 psi and we found that setting the pressure to about 8-9 psi let us fill up the bottles fairly well. this took a while longer than bottling usually does, but it was interesting to try out new equipment and learn a new technique.

once the bottling was done we set out on another important mission: a trip to buffalo, new york in search of beer. through beer advocate jay had heard about premier gourmet, a shop that boasts almost 750 different beers in stock. although there are a few questionable items on the list (*COUGH* labatts *COUGH*), there are a whole lot of really good beers. I was impressed by how many of the beer advocate top 100 beers were represented. unfortunately, with so much good beer to choose from it was hard not to spend a fortune. I started by formatting their list so that it’d print out on 6 pages, then going through and marking the porters (my favorite style) and stouts (a close second), and a few other choice items. I then cross referenced this with beer advocate ratings in order to help me choose. unfortunately, when this was done i had a list of over 50 different beers, more than i figured i should be buying, especially if i was hoping to stay under $100US.

The store was just under 2 hours from downtown toronto, and it was a fairly nice day for a drive. at times the traffic was a bit annoying, but for the most part it was pretty good. when we got there we found that the building houses two different stores: premier gourmet and premier liquors. we wandered into premier liquors first, and while it was a huge ass liquor store, it was just wine and alcohol: no beer here. we then went into premeir gourmet and initially were unsure if we were in the right place. it’s a decent sized store with all sorts of kithen gadgets and equipment, a huge cheese area, and lots of other food. but tucked away in the back corner in 4 somewhat unassuming rows is one of the finest collections of beer i’ve ever seen. we very quickly ran back to the front of the store for carts, knowing we’d be getting more than we could possibly carry. the shopping list was also fairly quickly thrown aside. there was just so much good beer that even if one thing from the list was missing, there was something else to take its place. i decided to go for variety rather than quantity, opting for only a single bottle of each beer i chose and avoiding beers that i’d had before. well, that’s not completely true: i knew going in that i’d be grabbing just about anything from stone brewing co. those guys are just fucking brilliant and make some of the best beer i’ve ever had. I’ve had their stone ipa, ruination ipa, and arrogant bastard ale, and all are fantastic. we were looking forward to the imperial russian stout as it was listed on the premier gourmet website, but it was still listed as “coming soon” when we arrived. regardless, i walked away with 9 porters, 7 stouts, and 5 other beers. I even managed to stay slightly under budget, which was suprising. we got hit for duty at the border, but we pretty much expected that. I dropped off jay and piera, made a quick stop at salad king for some awesome thai takeout, and headed home. here’s the list of what i picked up at premier:

  • anchor porter (1pt 6oz)
  • bear republic big bear black stout (1pt 6oz, 8.1%)
  • cooperstown brewing co. benchwarmer porter (12oz)
  • middle ages brewing co. ltd. wailing wench (1pt 6oz, 8%)
  • north coast brewing co. old no. 38 stout (12oz)
  • rogue mocha porter (1pt 6oz/650ml)
  • rogue shakespeare stout (1pt 6oz/650 ml)
  • salopian brewing company ltd entire butt english porter (1pt 0.9oz, 4.8%)
  • samuel smith old brewery tadcaster the famous taddy porter (355ml/12oz)
  • sinebrychoff porter (11.2oz/330ml, 7.2%)
  • southern tier brewing company porter dark (12oz/355ml)
  • stone arrogant bastard ale (1pt 6oz, 7.2%)
  • stone 8th anniversary ale (1pt 6oz, 7.8%)
  • stone ipa (1pt 6oz, 6.9%)
  • stone ruination ipa (1pt 6oz, 7.7%)
  • stone smoked porter (1pt 6oz, 5.9%)
  • st peter’s cream stout (1pt 0.9oz)
  • st peter’s old-style porter (1pt 0.9oz)
  • victory storm king stout (355ml/12oz, 9.1%)
  • weyerbacher heresy (1pt 6oz)
  • young’s oatmeal stout (1pt 0.9pz, 5.2%)

that gives me a pretty good stockpile of beer. i’ve got a 6 pack of our last ipa from tim’s, 6 of the dead pope stout, about 40 bottles of raspberry porter, and the above 21 bottles. and rob’s going over to premier next week if i need to have him pick anything up…

on sunday morning jenn and i got up bright and early to head over to tim’s place for some brewing. the biergotter gang were getting together for another brewing session, our first using our shiny new 15 gallon keg kettles. on the menu for the day was a re-vamp of our last american style ipa, updated for 10 gallons and more aggressive hopping, and a 10 gallon scottish ale. the day started off ok. everyone arrived at tim’s at 9am and we started getting setup. it was fairly warm and quite humid, but overcast with a bursts of light rain. i commented that it’d be great if that was the weather we got for the rest of the day as the slight rain was counteracting the heat. however, soon after this the clouds cleared and the great fiery ball of death began to beat down on us. before long tim’s back yard was starting to feel like an oven. it seems like the stone patio just reflects and radiates the heat, making it worse. at one point around the middle of the day I looked at our thermometer as it was laying on the railing of the deck and it was reading 122F (50C). in case you are unaware, that translates to “really fucking hot”. add in the approximately 89% humidity and it was deadly. fortunately we had 4 brewers (me, rob, jayc, and tim) to split the work, so before long we were taking turns with having breaks in the air conditioned house for some relief. we also had the biergotter wives (jenn, piera and erin) making sure we had sunscreen on and were drinking lots of water. even so, it was difficult to stay hydrated, and even wearing sunblock i still managed to get burned. i was wearing sandals and didn’t put sunblock on my feet until it was too late, so today has been pretty uncomfortable. my arms and neck are a bit tender, but nowhere near as bad as my feet. this is the second time i’ve had a burn on my feet (the first was in hawaii on my honeymoon) and it really sucks some serious ass. i definitely do not recommend it. oh well, hopefully they’ll be feeling better in a couple days.

as for the brewing itself, it went fairly well. we’ve gone up from doing 5 gallon batches to 10-11 gallons (with a maximum capacity of about 30 pounds of grain per batch). the new kettles worked great and even seemed to have improved things in a few ways. first, because they heat slower it seems to be easier to get the temperature just right for boiling and avoid boil overs. second, the inner lip on the top made it super easy to cover with saran wrap while chilling the beer. normally we have to tape the saran down to the sides of the pot, which can be a pain to remove later. tucking the saran around the lip seemed to work great and no tape was necessary. we also used bags for the hops rather than throwing them directly into the boil. This worked pretty well and also gave us a bit higher yield as we didn’t lose quite as much when transferring to the primary. however, the higher volumes too longer to get up to temperature, which made the day a bit longer. we also ran into a bit of trouble with our wort chiller. we’re used to using it in a pot that is roughly the same size as the coil, which works fairly well. however, when we dropped it down into the keg kettle it didn’t seem to be working very well. we’d test the temperature near the top of the kettle and see it as very high, and not seeming to drop. after about an hour we realized that the bottom half of the keg was very cold and the top half was still quite hot. since the pot wasn’t being stirred the top wasn’t getting cold. we propped up the chiller so that it was sitting in the top half of the the keg, gave it another half hour or so and everything was great. when it came time to chill the second batch we did roughly the same thing, which worked fairly well but is still much slower than when we’d chill the 5 gallon batches. we’re debating better cooling, either with a chiller that is taller and can go the full height of the keg or buying/building a counter flow chiller (something like this one sold by paddock). we’ve got a while before our next bewing session so i’m sure we’ll figure something out.

when we were finally done it had been more than a 10 hour day (9am to 7:15pm), yielding about 10 gallons of the ipa and 8 or 9 gallons of the scottish ale. we went home, took a nice cold shower, watched trailer park boys and went to bed. lets hope the beer is worth our scorching by the great fiery ball of death.