Our fifth original recipe: The Making of “Big Chief Hazel”

February 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

I am a son of New Orleans. While I wasn’t born there, I have lived there since age seven and lived there since (except for the past few years in the frigid north). The city took me in, and it is the place I have called home despite my wandering. It is a unique city and world: a place with a deep, shared culture of music, food, interpersonal warmth, and, well, sharing. One of the liveliest and most classic demonstrations of this theme is Mardi Gras, the annual carnival. And part of that, each year, is the Mardi Gras Indians, close-knit bands of men (mostly African American) who celebrate their kinship by parading with intricate costumes of feathers and sequins that they hand-sew. To celebrate that culture, I am planning a “Crescent City” series of brews, the first being a celebration of the Mardi Gras Indians.

While some consider brown ales boring, I think there is a lot of room for creativity, warmth, and easy enjoyment. The laissez-faire attitude of New Orleans natives fits well with the easy drinkability of a good brown ale. To accompany this Southern pace of life, I figured that hazelnuts would be a good accompaniment. Especially toasted hazelnuts.

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I tried patting down the toasted hazelnuts with paper towels to absorb any oils, but nothing picked up. We might lose some of the head of the beer due to oils from the nuts, but ah well; such is life. It will still be a majestic brew. In the future, I may try smashing the nuts on something absorbent; these were pre-cut nuts.

So, I figured I might as well throw in some caramel malt as well. Oh, and how about a little smokiness, say with cherrywood smoked malt? Smoky, tasty, hazelnutty, caramel goodness. Steeped, boiled, and brewed on this flame of righteousness.

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This is one of the burners on our gas stove. It is… robust. It’s no banjo burner, but I wonder if it can give most propane burners a run for their money.

We have taken to steeping grains which adds a few more minutes to the brewing process. The steeping is mostly occurring during the heating of the cool water to the first boil, so that doesn’t really add any time. However, the grains do need to be measured out, placed in a nylon bag, and then held above the pot to drip once they are done. I have separated the grains into 4 oz, 8 oz, and 16 oz batches, so hopefully this will expedite further brewing with these various specialty malts.

One area that provides significant time savings is the use of a wort chiller. I use a typical standard wort chiller that I obtained from Northern Brewer. It didn’t come with the proper fitting for my sink, but that I could obtain for a few extra dollars. It takes perhaps 5-10 minutes to cool what initially took a minimum of 30 minutes of spinning a lidded enamel pot in cold running water lined with ice packs. Even if running water is still involved, this requires much less effort on my part and frees up my hands, which means more consumption of home brew.

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So, another successful brew day completed! However, I did break my first hydrometer: it slipped out of the plastic sleeve as I was brandishing the hydrometer like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir (actually, I was just moving it from the sanitation bucket to the countertop). Ah well, good thing I had the forethought to obtain a spare. Someday, if we open our own brewery-airship, I will break a hydrometer against the hull to christen it on its maiden voyage.

I admittedly was surprising by the original gravity that resulted from the steeping of the grains.

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Behold, this is the Big Chief Hazel!

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(For those of you who have not read the great rabbit classic Watership Down, this beer is also a tribute to Hazel, the protagonist of the adventure novel and the leader of a group of homeless rabbits on a journey to find a new home. At our future brewery, we plan to serve “Fivers” [5 oz tasters] and “Bigwigs” [22 oz bombers].)

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Our fourth original recipe: The Making of Bonne Idée Barleywine

January 27, 2013 § 1 Comment

I recently spent some time hanging out with Jason, another veteran homebrewer and founder of future brewery The Steampunk Brewery. A year or two ago, he threw a party with his fiancée that featured several of his homebrews, including a banana bread beer and apricot beer. He had a fancy metal fermenter that he had designed and built himself, and he was showcasing the beginning of the dream to start his own craft brewery. He shared with me his experiences with all-grain brewing, the flexibility and cost benefits, as well as the ease of the “brew in a bag” method. It may be some time before I would consider switching from malt extract recipes to all grain brewing, particularly given the additional time and equipment requirements. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying all types of experimentation and gradually picking up on details of each aspect of beer creation; it’s only a matter of time before I also catch the bug and dream of starting my own craft brewery (oh wait, I think I already did). For now, though, I’m having a lot of fun and making some tasty beer!

Today was brew day at Bunny Hops Brewery: we brewed our first barley wine! This beer is named “Bonne Idée” and is our celebration ale: a carrot cake-inspired beer that hopefully will be ready in time for Easter!

Our prior three original recipes were malt extract-only beers (with possible eventual plans to make them partial mash or all-grain recipes), but this beer definitely need a bigger malt kick. The First Brewmatey often makes solid carrot cakes for the bigger rabbits on this ship, and this often includes nuts and raisins. Accordingly, we used Maris Otter malt to get some nuttiness and Belgian Special B to bring out some raisin flavor. The latter seriously smells like raisin bran in so many awesome ways. I obtained two reusable nylon brew bags for steeping grains, hops, and other ingredients (I hated the idea of having to buy muslin bags for steeping grains and then throwing them away after a single use). Here, you can see them secured to the edge of the pot with chopsticks:

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This beer, a barleywine, largely draws from the English ale tradition. Accordingly, I wanted to use a European hop and went with Styrian Goldings (supposedly not truly from the Goldings family, but still useable for British ales). It has nice earthy, woodsy aroma that definitely differs from the spicy, Noble hops that I have been using for the other beers.

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This beer is actually made with real carrots. We’ll see how that turns out (that is, if any of the carrot flavor arises). I used sliced/shredded carrots steeped in one of the nylon bags and boiled for the full boiling time. Most of the cake essence, however, will likely come from the array of spices.

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While I was boiling the wort, the First Brewmatey went nuts, took all of the spent grains, and made cheese and Belgian Special B barley scones. This ain’t no hard tack and swill like they serve down below in the galleys. This is seriously British first class right now.

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The brewing today took a little longer with the initial steeping, carrot slicing, and spice grinding, but overall it took about 3.5 hours and was a fun afternoon. We dipped some of the wort into the hydrometer flask, and it rings true in the “table wine” range at 1.084 for the specific gravity.

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Alright, good night, little yeasty cherubs. Dream sweet dreams of barley wine and carrot cake!

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Your Brew Captain,

Blackjack

Leveling up

December 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, I spent some time brewing with Daniel, a new friend of mine and significant other of one of my other friends/coworkers (for my day/not-brewing job). He is a veteran homebrewer of at least three years, and it was neat hearing his perspectives, seeing his setup, and seeing what he emphasizes.
He and his brewmatey Chris brew 5 gallon batches that are all-grain. They have a mash tun and a large stainless steel pot that is marked at useful volumes (e.g. 5 gallons). I had a chance to witness the process from start to (near) finish, including sanitation with an iodine solution. The all-grain method is one that I have not yet embraced, and I’m not sure if I will for some time if at all: it requires more equipment, and one has to boil down a large volume of liquid to 5 gallons (which can extend the brew day process by hours). Time, if anything, is probably the most limiting factor for me. While I have the capacity to do 5 gallon batches, I have started predominantly with 2.5 gallon batches to speed the process of experimentation and innovation. I think I also prefer using Starsan to iodine: since the latter is odorless, tasteless, and doesn’t require rinsing, it is much easier to use. At any given time, I have at least 10 gallons of Starsan solution rotating between storage buckets, bottling buckets, and carboys.
Interestingly, Daniel has a strong affinity for Belgian ales. Fortunately, the American homebrewing and craft brewing community seems very diverse and has a lot of different stylistic interests and preferences, but I think that many others I have met before now have been very much attuned to hoppy beers (like India Pale Ales, which is a very popular American craft brewing style). This is also reflected by the menus of pubs and bars. For me, I have only recently come to develop some appreciation for heavily hopped beers, so it is refreshing to hear from someone who has been further around the block than me and still prefers less hoppy beers. Daniel’s significant other Katherine obtained a diamond-shaped seal of Tripel Karmeliet which is mounted on his kitchen wall like a shrine. It is his Holy Grail of beers to replicate: he is meticulously and carefully cultivating a colony of yeast obtained from a Tripel Karmeliet bottle with hopes of coaxing the essence of the brew out of the yeast and into an upcoming brew. I recently had the opportunity to try Tripel Karmeliet, and I can see why it makes such an appealing goal: tripels have a lovely blending of malts with the fruit-aroma esters of Belgian ale yeasts. The key, I think, is in the yeast, which is an area that Daniel has been focusing on. He introduced me to the world of liquid yeasts (including “smack packs”) and wort aeration (with a pump and “diffusion stone” which looks exactly like the same ones I used in my aquariums years ago).
Through this process of learning to homebrew, I am trying to approach my learning in stages: this first stage has been a lesson in the process and also in malts. Of all the variables that can be altered, I think that malts are probably the simplest, particularly now that malt extracts have become affordable and variable. At this time, I am trying to taste the difference in different volumes of malt and see the difference in color from different malt extract blends. Overall, I’m trying to maximize what I can do with malt extracts while working on a reasonable budget. My homebrews are trending towards using more malt with a higher alcohol content as a result. At least at this time, I don’t taste much of a difference between brands (e.g. Briess versus Muntons dry malt extract, or Northern Brewer versus Midwest Supplies liquid malt extract), so I’m tailoring my malt usage to the individual homebrew. So far, I have made two batches of Blackjack and Year of the Rabbit with different malt balances (between dry and liquid, and overall total malt content).
After my experience brewing with Daniel, I started trying more Belgian ales and have been developing a taste for them (I was already predisposed with my liking of witbiers). I recently obtained a bottle of Ommegang Abbey Ale, a dubbel, and fell in love with it. I had tried it before at a recruiting dinner when I found it enjoyable alongside steak tips, and then I tried it again at home with the First Brew Matey, savoring each sip. After that, I have decided to move to the next level: homebrewing Belgian ales, and with it, yeast cultivation!
Blackjack

Sharing the homebrew

November 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Fall and winter can be a lovely time. Although the cold weather (cold rain, sleet, and Nor’ Easters, in particular) can be uncomfortable and detrimental to all that is happy and good, it also brings people together: typically under a sturdy roof, near a radiator or fireplace, and with good food, drink, and good company. My friend Christine (who is a friend to rabbits, Tsuki and Mochi in particular) and her significant other Dan recently hosted a fall food-themed party to which I brought bottles of Blackjack and Year of the Rabbit. I was pleased that both were big hits: Blackjack in particular is an easy crowd-pleaser, particularly with its strong spice flavor (ginger) and higher alcohol content! Seeing enjoyment in the eyes of others and hearing genuine appreciation for the brew has somehow made the dream more real.

To add to this, I now have an open invitation to join fellow homebrewers Daniel and Chris (aka Slam) on their brewday this Thanksgiving weekend which I am very excited about. Both have more homebrewing experience than myself and have different styles: they are all-grain brewers, and they have also recently acquired a kegging system for more rapid carbonation and enjoyment of the beer! I am eager to see their setup and learn more about the craft. I suspect that unless our setup and situation changes that I will continue to make malt extract and mixed extra-grain homebrews as opposed to all-grain beers (which requires more equipment) and continue to bottle condition (instead of keg, which again requires more equipment but speeds up the process). I am so new to this process that the simple act of opening a bottle of one’s own homebrew still feels very magical to me. I’m guessing it will continue to feel that way for a long time.

That being said, changes abound! New batches of Blackjack and Year of the Rabbit are on their way as the old ones are being rapidly consumed. Blackjack will be made with an extra light malt this time, and Year of the Rabbit is going to be tripled-hopped and also bulked up in malt content. Just in time for the December holidays. And there may be new recipes a-brewin’…

Year of the Rabbit in a pint glass

Last but not least, First Brewmatey Miya made an excellent acquisition recently: new beer glasses! These are faux tulip glasses that hopefully can help hold the head and concentrate the aroma for some of the brews (yes, these were obtained from IKEA). I hope to also acquire a few snifters and more straight pint glasses as time goes on. Here is Blackjack in one of the new glasses:

Till next time,

Blackjack

Our second original recipe: Blackjack

November 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have been negligent: I have been drinking homebrew and not sharing it! Well, I have been sharing the homebrew itself, I just haven’t been describing its glory here in the Captain’s Log.

After the success of Year of the Rabbit and its incorporation of spices, I decided to go after another spiced beer that celebrates the coming colder months (after all, WINTER IS COMING). This brew was affectionately named after yours truly: Blackjack, so called because of its signature ingredient, blackstrap molasses.

Blackstrap has this wonderful, deep darkness to it, and it adds a richness without excessive sweetness. The second key ingredient was fresh ginger which we peeled and grated on brewing day.

I won’t detail the brewing process as much for this batch as it followed similar steps to Year of the Rabbit, but this brew was tripled hopped instead of double hopped, and it yielded an unexpected result:

That, matey, is a specific gravity not in the realm of beer, but rather, in the range of wine! The blackstrap apparently also throws its weight around. Once in the fermenter, it enveloped itself in a massive foam blanket and mulled over its dark thoughts.

On bottling day, it yielded a lovely aroma, much like that of a ginger molasses cookie, along with a hefty waft (from the fermenter) of ginger and alcohol that tickled the nose.

The end result after two weeks of bottle conditioning was a very nicely balanced and  hearty homebrew.

Appearance: Opaque, reddish-brown, 2 cm head initially dissolving to light lace
Smell: Ginger, spicy hops
Taste: Moderate to heavy malt, ginger, dark undertone (perhaps from the blackstrap molasses). Moody.
Mouthfeel: Medium-heavy body, moderate carbonation; the ginger tickles the tongue and palate.
Overall: A great night-time beer for socializing, carousing, and singing sea shanties. Rings in at 6.8% alcohol for a fun night ahead.

Yours truly,

Blackjack

Our First Original Beer Recipe: The Year of the Rabbit

October 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

It is finally complete! Today is day 14 of bottle conditioning of The Year of the Rabbit, Bunny Hops Brewery’s very first original recipe. I may be biased, but I think it actually tastes good. It’s quite light on the alcohol content: only 3%, which is particularly well-suited for those of the Asian persuasion like myself. I set out to make this beer with the simplest and fewest number of ingredients with the exception of a single secret ingredient: five spice.

 

Ingredient List:

– Brita filtered water

– US05 Safale Yeast

– Amber liquid malt extract

– Perle Hops (double, for bittering and flavor/aroma)

– Five spice

 

My philosophy at this time is that in order to really learn the craft of homebrewing, I need to know each ingredient. For example, instead of starting with grains, I need to know how far I can take liquid and dry malt extract. Instead of adding in a huge list of ingredients (for example, a list of a half-dozen crushed grains), I want to know what each ingredient does to the brew before selecting it for recipes of my own.

 

Here is the profile of the beer at day 14:

Appearance: Clear, reddish-amber, 1 cm head initially, quickly dissolving to light lace around the rim
 
Smell: Five spice with subtle minty-spicy hops
 
Taste: Light on the malt, robust five spice flavor blended with the spiciness of the hops
 
Mouthfeel: Medium body, moderate carbonation; the spice and hops tickles the tongue during the second half of each sip
 
Overall: Tasty, easy to drink beer. Goes well with stir fry, shabu, and other East Asian foods (speaking from personal experience).

 

Here’s to making every year the Year of the Rabbit!

Blackjack

The First Taste of The Year of the Rabbit

October 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s been one week since the bottling of the first batch of The Year of the Rabbit, Bunny Hops Brewery’s first original recipe. After some issues with undercarbonation with the starter batch, Maiden Voyage, I was a bit nervous about how this beer would turn out. Fortunately, I am pleasantly surprised: IT IS AWESOME.

I’m going to wait until the two week mark before giving it a full appraisal, but so far it has a medium body and is very drinkable, perhaps even sessionable. The aroma of five spice and minty-spicy Perle hops meets the nose briskly, and even though my nose is currently stuffed up with a cold, the pleasant aroma returns readily after the glass has been put down for a few minutes. The five spice blends remarkably well with the hops with regards to flavor, rolling across the tongue and palate mostly in during the second half of each sip with a little bit lingering at the end. The Perle hops adds a pleasant and relatively mild bitterness in this case. Even after only one week, this first bottle was nicely carbonated. There is still a slight estery undertone which I suspect will mellow out at the two week mark, allowing the hops to assert themselves more.

Cheers, to Bunny Hops Brewery’s first original beer: an amber ale with a touch of five spice.

Blackjack

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