The All Thumbs Transfer

That dark brown guy there is All Thumbs, an IPA style that was our first all grain brew. The hops pack was Falconer’s Flight for bittering, Calypso for aroma, and today we’ve racked it onto Nelson Sauvin to dry hop.

Initial verdict – more bitter than we were expecting, but the Nelson will help that. A very drinkable beer, all in all. Can’t wait to get it into bottles in a couple of weeks!

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Scary Monsters Black IPA

I know that there are rules to determine style types: a given quantity of this, plus that, plus that other, with a dash of these hops, and bang, you’ve got an Elephantine Porterhouse. Or whatever.

I don’t know those rules, and I’m not so concerned about them. As much as I’m a brewer, it’s much more significant to me that I’m a drinker of beer. I love certain flavor combinations and certain mouthfeels and certain amounts of carbonation… These are the things I strive for, and I don’t usually consult textbooks in my pursuit of those.

So I don’t know exactly what Scary Monsters is, but the flavor profile, lightness of body (surprising, given the color), and the way it drinks have led me to call it a Black IPA. Maybe that’s even right.

1. It’s partial mash, so bring about two or two and a half gallons of water to about 155 degrees, and in a steeping bag, place:

  • 8 oz Crushed Caramel Malt
  • 9 oz Chocolate Malt
  • 8 oz Toasted Barley

2. Steep them in your 150-160 degree water for 40 minutes. It’s a lot of grain, so it’s a long soak.

3. After about 40 minutes, lift out your steeping bag and gently encourage as much water as possible as possible to drip into your kettle.

4. Bring your kettle to a boil, and add 6.6 pounds of Muntons Light Malt Extract.

5. Hops pack:

  • 1 oz Willamette – 60 min
  • 1 oz Cascade – 20 min
  • 1 oz Centennial – 5 min

6. Pretty sure I used Nottingham yeast, but any good ale yeast will do.

7. When primary fermentation completes, rack onto 1 oz Willamette for two weeks to dry hop.

Oh, and if your setup is prone to blow offs during primary, you might look into making a blow off tube. Scary Monsters redecorated my kitchen and I had quite a bit of cleaning to do the next morning. Like, mopping. It was intense. That beer earned its name.

 

The Magic of Mead

My early brewing experiences kind of run together in my mind, but I have a clear recollection of first hearing the obvious lie that if you stir honey into water in a 1:4 mixture (or 2:4, or more:4), and then keep stirring here and there for a few days, it’ll spontaneously ferment on any old kitchen counter.

It was such an outlandish idea that I couldn’t help but try it, and sure enough, a few days later my little bucket of honey water had a layer of white bubbles on the surface.

Mead was my gateway brew. That batch, or one soon after, was poured into an emptied plastic gallon jug with a condom serving as an air lock. Soon I had a storage bin full of gallon jugs, some with fruit, spices, or berries mixed in, condoms at varying levels of inflation.

I learned a lot about wild yeasts in these early brewing experiments. Most of these batches never ended up with much in the way of alcohol, and some had distinctive off flavors, like a blueberry mead with the mildest hint of something like vinegar. I actually enjoyed the taste a lot and would sample it intermittently over about two years.

From here it was on to Champagne yeasts, those ultra-high-alcohol-tolerant beasties isolated in the Champagne region of France, turning my meads into undrinkable vats of rubbing alcohol more fit for cleaning engine parts than sipping for pleasure. I got over my fascination with high ABV, and got into crafting amazing drinks.

In 2009, my mom overbought pears and sent me home from a visit with 15 pounds of them. I chopped them up and simmered them in a stock pot for 24 hours, strained it, and added several pounds of honey and some cinnamon to make a one-gallon batch. I took bottles of my Spiced Pear Mead to my parents’ house for the holidays for two years, though for some reason we never opened it while I was there and I’d only get reviews months later. “This beer you brought is really good,” my Dad would say on the phone.

“The what?” I’d ask.

“You know, this spiced pear beer you brought.” Oh, Dad.

In 2011, I became a beekeeper. Mead is the smallest reason, but it was one of the reasons to add two hives of honeybees to my back yard. This year, in 2012, I was able to harvest enough honey to make two one-gallon batches of mead early in the summer. A blueberry mead went into bottles last week and should be ready for tasting in the spring. On my shelf, a peach mead has just finished a long primary fermentation (June 30 to around September 5) and went into secondary to take it off a lot of obvious pulp. It’s clearing beautifully and will go into bottles soon.

I think the reason mead captures my imagination so fully is that it’s such an obvious proof of alcohol’s persistent role in the world. Early humans probably first learned to craft an intoxicant when honey they were trying to store got wet. Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, has described early pottery making as the first technological revolution, and suggests that it was primarily driven by the need to have reliable fermentation vessels for the production of alcohol.

I can believe it. I still find myself peering into carboys and demijohns just after yeast is pitched, watching the strange geometries of yeast colonization, the halos that form on the surface and later, the obvious chaos inside the vessel as the yeast populations explode into primary fermentation. It’s mesmerizing and magical. For me, it all started with a bucket of honey water and a spoon.

Unemployment Insurance Belgian Tripel

This is an extract brew that I made ahead of a job loss in August 2010. It’s a huge, sweet beer that got seven or eight people hammered in May of 2011 when I brought it a friend’s college graduation. We all went to high school together, and watching our friend walk across the stage almost twenty years later – yeah, it was awesome to have something really special to contribute to such a great day.

Here’s the recipe:

9# Briess DME Pilsen

3# Briess DME Sparkling Amber

1# Belgian Candy Sugar

(13# fermentables total)

Hops:

2oz Hallertau 60 min

1oz Syrian 20 min

1oz Saaz 5 min

No notes on yeast, but it was probably a dry yeast, definitely an ale yeast. My notes say that the boil time was more like 90 minutes than 60. I recall having a hard time getting the DME powders to dissolve.

I don’t think I ever put it into secondary. I think it sat in primary for about six months, then went into bottles, then went into bellies.

 

Fruit Brews

Back in late July or early August, I visited some friends who have a pear tree that they insisted was overloaded with fruit. I brought some buckets, laughing at the idea that we’d fill even one. My neighbor has a pear tree, after all, and it’s a squirrel salad bar for much of the summer. No fruit makes it to the ground unchewed.

We pulled 100 pounds of pears off that tree, which wasn’t close to what it had on it, under it, and all around it. Apparently raccoons have taken to spending their evenings in the higher branches, noisily munching away.

I turned this into to two batches. I juiced 45 pounds of fruit, added 4 pounds of white sugar, boiled to sanitize, then put it into a carboy with Montrachet wine yeast. That batch finished fermentation in under a week and is clearing in secondary. I’m hoping to put it in bottles early next year.

The second batch was 55# of fruit, 4# sugar, a one-hour boil, and Centennial hops thrown in… because I love Centennial. I pitched Safale-05 (I think) ale yeast and it fermented for a month or more. I was finally able to bottle the “pear beer” a little over a week ago, on September 6.

I tasted it on bottling day, and again last night. Verdict: The hops weren’t necessary, and are likely to make it unpalatable to a lot of cider fans who don’t care for beer. It’s an odd mixture of flavors – not bad, but not immediately delicious either.

So next summer, when we pull another 100# of fruit off of the pear tree (fingers crossed!), instead of hops, my pear cider will sit on cinnamon and clove for a while, and will be a delectable, gluten-free Christmas cider.