27 April 2008

Searching for Beer in the Big City

Some fellows talk about New York,
But I shall stay at home.
- Sarah Orne Jewett from "A Country Boy in Winter"
Imagine my delight when I yesterday stumbled upon a write up of BeerMenus.com, a site that indexes all the beers in all the gin joints of...um...New York City. My disappointment was mitigated, of course, by the long-held knowledge that here in the uppermost corner of the Shenandoah Valley both technology and fine brew arrive late to the party, if at all. And this is leaving at the door the small fact of being married to a Baptist minister, living at the frayed but still sturdy edge of our nations Bible Belt.

Still, our more cosmopolitan readers (see: New Yorkers) or those planning a trip to Gotham in the next few months will be well-advised to avail themselves of this fine tool. Search for your favorite ale, dubbel or imperial porter. Alternately, see what the cool kids are drinking, or browse the trendiest bars by neighborhood. And please don't try this in the Bronx, Staten Island or Queens where the safe bet is a Yeungling (at best) downed quickly and a subsequent quick metro hop to friendlier climes.

So when you're out there, be safe, obey all traffic signs and don't feed the hipsters. Happy drinking.

23 April 2008

The IPA label

Now we're passing into the inner corridors of Nerddom. But most of you were probably already aware of that.

Here's the IPA label, with what I trust carries the appropriate level of Victorian/Edwardian ethos, suitable for shipping to the Subcontinent:

She transferred into the secondary fermenter on Monday afternoon and looks to be bottled this weekend. I'm still not as handy (or confident) with the hydrometer as I'd like to be but as far as I can tell, everything points to an ABV in the ballpark of 5.something %. Also appropriate. I'm eagerly awaiting this one.

Parry, of course, being perhaps best known for his hymn-tune Jerusalem ("And did those feet in ancient times..." or, to familiars of The Hymnal 1982, "O day of peace that dimly shines..."), which should (also appropriately) stir the hearts of all Brittanophiles worthy of the title, especially upon this, St. George's Day.

My inner Scot cringes and scowls.

A philosphy of Beer - and inaugural review

First, a philosphy of beer:

Ok, that's out of the way.

As for a first review I think it only appropriate to quote the Bard (I am, of course, talking about Bob Dylan). "You gotta have heart. You gotta have lots of things. You gotta have a waterproof hat, and a dog you can trust. You gotta have your girlfriend's credit card..."

I'm confident that Mr. Zimmerman would agree that you also gotta have a favorite pale ale. An ale that reminds you just why you fell in love with drinking good beer. An aroma that wakes your senses in the same way as the first morning pot of coffee; an initial flavor across your tongue like the spoonful of fruity pebbles into which you inconceivably (but fortuitously) dropped a handful of sourpatch kids. All the while a rock-solid baseline of malt and barley hold fast against the excess that leads to mere frivolity - a weatherbeaten, centuries-old upright bass accompanied by the jazz-fusion stick man who, today, respectfully restrains himself to the high hat and snare in a loving rendition of his favorite classic.

You gotta have lots of things. At the top of my list is a cold refreshing pint of Flying Dog's "Doggie Style" Classic American Pale Ale. Until next time, drink heartily and well.

22 April 2008

Into the Deep End (an introduction)

I have long lurked in the back alleys of the Internet, skulking by this blog from time to time in order to fellowship transitively with fellow beer aficionados. Having been, many moons ago, extended an invitation to join the fray, I have heretofore chosen to remain in the shadows.

Well my friends, no longer. And thus, I feel an introduction is in order.

I have decided to write primarily out of my great and abiding affection for this blog's eponymous founder. I write also out of a sense of duty, our histories of beer being so closely interwoven that my continued silence would somehow start subtly unraveling the thread. And like all writers I scribble in part out of vanity - the desire to set fleeting thoughts of questionable importance to a somewhat less impermanent medium.

Beyond friendship, I have several other connections to this blog. Like Mrs. A-G I too cut my beer drinking teeth on the fabled late nineties high school favorite - Icehouse. Perhaps more significantly, like Mr. A-G I once picked up and was enchanted by Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table. I found, however, that it was not his passion for beer sommeliership that ultimately captured my attention. It was instead his devotion to the very craft of brewing. The jazz-like combination of ingredients. The science of proportions. The centuries of tradition, almost lost to industrialized America before the Depression Era necessity revived the small independent brewer.

I am thus little concerned with how a beer will taste to the denizens of the modern day foie gras speakeasies of lower Chicago who order a glass to accompany their $40 salad garnished with the force-fed liver of an unfortunate waterfowl. Instead, I relish the pleasure of a cold pint poured on the back porch of a rental house in eastern Goochland county, guzzled with the satisfaction of knowing that there's no cable, no air conditioning, beans and rice for dinner and a pair of $10 mixed six-packs in the refrigerator. It is in that spirit that I hope to review a few of my favorite things on this blog.

In the next issue: A philosphy of beer, and an inaugural review. Until Then.

17 April 2008

St. Cecilia Reports...The Latest in Homebrewing, and Some "Greening" Tips

The New Digs.

The St. Cecilia Brewery has set up shop in its new venue! I'm quite excited.

Running water is at hand. As is a small countertop for drying and storage.

Plenty of space to stow the empties. And who cares if a mess is made?

The unofficial brewery mascot. And note, at the top of the photo, a hot-plate I purchased at the church rummage sale for $6. Now the entire brewing operation can take place in the basement -- boiling, washing, filling, you name it. No running back and forth to the kitchen.

To celebrate the new space, the arrival of spring/warm weather, AND the first brewing since my Lenten hiatus, I'm firing up an IPA -- Sir Charles (Hubert Hastings Parry) India Ale (check back soon for a picture of the label).

I started the batch on Saturday the 12th. Here's the lineup:
6 lb. Cooper's Light malt extract syrup
1 lb. Northwestern Pilsen Dry Malt extract
2 lb. crushed grain: 75% German Vienna malt, 25% Biscuit malt
1 oz each Cluster, Buillion, and Brewers Gold hops
White Labs Burton Ale yeast.
The ABS wanted to give me California Ale yeast, but I opted for the Burton yeast, hoping for a more classic "English" taste as a result.

I'm pretty excited about the IPA, as is my Hop-head wife.

Although, it's time for a funny anecdote. After pitching the yeast and capping the carboy, I was excited to see the yeast begin to activate (the fancy word for frothy, bubbling, fermenting yeast is Kräusen) much sooner than most of my brews heretofore have experienced -- instead of a day or two, Kräusen was happening within a few hours. I'm not sure whether to attribute that to the cooler temperature of the room, or the temperature of the wort when the yeast was pitched, or the particular combination of ingredients. At any rate, it's been fermenting up a storm. This morning, I just so happened to come into the brewery room in the basement to collect a couple of empty boxes, and discovered that the airlock (which seals off the carboy and keeps the wee beasties out of the brew) had blow clean off the carboy -- the crazy yeast activity had clogged the airlock, and the force of CO2 being expelled from the carboy pushed the clogged airlock clean out of the neck, like a bottle rocket. No harm should come to the brew, I think, because so much CO2 is leaving the carboy that I doubt anything can enter into the batch. I'll have to keep a closer watch from here on out.

I'm also doing what I can to "green up" (or, should I say, "Blue up"??) my brewing process. I haven't yet ordered organic brewing supplies from Seven Bridges Co-Op (saving that for May or June), but there are some other things to be done:

1) Reduction of water use.

We're still suffering an extreme drought in NC. Water use is -- or should be -- a big deal
Instead of immersing all the various equipment in a tub of sanitizer solution, spritz the sanitizer solution and rinse.

Instead of washing bottles in the dishwasher, use the sink faucet bottle-washer adapter, and collect the water in a tub in your sink. Use that water for plant-watering or compost-moistening purposes.

Use greywater (see below) for non-consumable purposes (soaking labels off bottles, etc.)

2) Recycling of materials, particularly water.

Bottles are the obvious ones here (I have not bought new empty bottles since my very first batch in September), but it can go much further than that.

Reuse sanitizer water/solution -- after cleaning the carboy, tubing, etc, use the same sanitizer solution for bottles and such.

Spent grains not only make great compost, but also can be dried and used in homemade breads.
I've even used dried spent grains as a crouton substitute on salads. Dried spent grains are also a big hit in the bird feeder. The hop slugde can go in the compost bin or pile.

I'm also a big fan of taking the wort chiller water to the garden/yard (I do the same thing with the water I soak bottles in to remove the labels -- water which I have collected from my shower in buckets [aka "grey water"]).

NB. If you're worried about glue (or soap) residue from labels making its way into your garden veggies, check into setting up a greywater treatment (a miniature wetland, really -- it's amazing how many beasties get cleaned up just by filtering through root systems!). I don't have one of these things set up yet, but it's on my wish list. I should add that my shower greywater benefits from non-toxic shampoo and soap that I use.

I haven't tried this yet, but I bet I could take the water from my wort chiller (it's just water) and add it to the washing machine next time we do laundry. Or use it for non-dishwasher dishes.

3)Reduction of paper used.

OK, most homebrewers won't even need to worry about this one. However, those like myself who enjoy making labels for their brews must contend with the paper use involved. I've decided, instead of slapping labels (no more than 6 or 9 labels per page, depending on how big they are) on all 50-or-so bottles in each batch, to only print out enough labels per batch for my cellared brews, and maybe a couple that I give away (so one sheet of paper per batch, rather than upwards of 6 -- and with at least one beer brewed per month, those pages add up pretty quick).

At the end of the day, of course, homebrewing is quite sustainable without even trying to be, and without going nuts -- reuse of containers, no distribution to speak of (the petrol used to ship my supplies to me pales in comparison to loading cases of bottles on trucks and sending them all over the country), and no gross cleaning chemicals that most commercial breweries use. I'm sure I'm forgetting some aspects here, also.

Maybe I should look into kegging down the road -- that would be even more minimalist and resource-reducing.