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.

May 8, 2005

beer! - beer

decided to add a 'beer' category. seemed like a good idea since it does occupy alot of my time...

last weekend a few of the biergotter guys got together and did some brewing. it was a fruit-beer day. Jay W wanted to repeat the apple ale that he'd tried to do in waterloo, Jay C was interested in experimenting with a pineapple ale, and I was aiming for a repeat of the wonderful raspberry porter that Jay C and I had made when we were roommates back in undergrad. We had made a porter or two at that point and they'd turned out well, so we decided to slightly modify the recipe and add some raspberry concentrate. the result was fantastic. a nice subtle raspberry flavor that only got better with age. unfortunately, it was so good it didn't last that long.

in the approximately 8-10 years since we brewed that batch i've thought of it often. when we formed the biergotter homebrew club and started brewing again last fall it once again came to mind. we brewed a bunch of batches in waterloo (including a repeat of the old "sweet johnny porter"), but unfortunately the water in waterloo is so bad that all of the beers were tainted with an awful chemically smell and were undrinkable. it was as if someone had poured nail polish remover into the beer. just nasty. this caused us to take a bit of a hiatus from brewing while we regrouped and decided on the best place to resume operations.

earlier this year my friend Tim started expressing interest in joining the homebrew fun and offered his place as somewhere to brew. As he's also in the GTA it was convenient for both Jay C and myself, so we headed over one cold and rainy saturday to brew up a couple batches. on the menu was an american style IPA and another stout (we made one in waterloo). brewing went fairly well and this past tuesday we headed back over to Tim's and bottled up our creations. The yield was 15 bottles of each batch for each of us. we sampled them in their un-carbonated form and were impressed. I'm looking forward to giving them a try. I'll probably crack one opened on tuesday, but don't really expect them to be fully carbonated until next week.

during the time that i was in minnesota, the jay's had been doing some all grain brewing down in windsor. after the failures in waterloo we decided to try doing a few batches in windsor. it's not as convenient for us toronto area people, but as we have friends and family in windsor we end up there fairly often. so last weekend we resumed operations at Jay W's house. The first batch was Jay C's pineapple ale. we decided to go with steeping the pineapple for 30 min after the boil. since we've got lots of equipment down there we started my raspberry porter going in parallel. i'd picked up 6.5 pounds of frozen raspberries from m & m, so i went with the 30min steep after the boil too. in my case we were aiming for more of a 'brown porter' than a 'robust porter' so that the raspberry would show through nicer. it was neat because it looked like i was going to have a nice brown colour, but once the raspberries went in it took on a definite red hue. even the head looks to have a red tint to it. it's been happily fermenting away since last saturday and i'm definitely looking forward to when i get to try it out. It's going to go into bottles too, but i'm still considering building a counter pressure bottle filler and throwing it into the keg first. that means i'll need to get a co2 tank and all that, but it also puts me on my way towards a keg fridge. (Rob and the Jays all have keg setups, so i'm a bit behind the curve in that respect, but its mostly due to lack of space in our current apartment. once we end up in a larger place i'm hoping to pick up a cheap fridge and put in a tap or two. should be neat)

the last batch of the day was Jay W's apple ale. he decided to go with baking the apples and then adding them to the primary fermenter. he also managed to forget his final round of hops, so it looks like he's going to dry hop too. looking forward to seeing how this one turns out. the attempt in waterloo was crazy as it was crystal clear. usually our beers are on the darker side and sometimes take a while to clear up. we were all amazed at how quickly the apple ale cleared up and its nice light color. hoping the same happens with this batch. we had a bit of a scare initially. 48 hours after pitching the yeast there was still no sign of bubbling in our airlocks. fortunatley, when jay got in that night he saw that there was foam leaking out from around the edges of the lid. looks like the yeast were working just great, except he didn't have a perfect seal on the fermenter. he got it sealed after this and everything seems to be working well now.

only drawback to this session was that we broke our reliable old hydrometer. we have a backup, but it was not balanced too well and didn't seem to be working reliably. we confirmed this on Tuesday when we tried to get final gravity readings on the beers at Tim's place. it was reading far too high, so we're not going to be quite sure on the alcohol contents of the batches we've done using it, but we'll pick up a replacement and be back to normal in no time.

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