Monday, December 5, 2011

Merry Christmas and other awkward holiday photos.

What kid doesn't love Christmas? A day entirely built on getting presents. All of those packages wrapped up under the tree, covered in ribbon and bows. Can you honestly tell me you didn't do your best to look at the name tag on each and every one, just hoping it was for you?

Jeff & Santa_edited-2.jpg
Christmas 1980. Clearly I was THRILLED!
Sure, my parents trying to instill the importance of friends and family, but when I was little, I wasn't thinking about that. Nope. I was hoping to find Star Wars action figures, GI Joe's, Transformers, AND a Nintendo game under the tree. Undoubtedly there were some disappointments, but can't remember a single one (NES, cough cough). I certainly had more than my share of great Christmases.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Time To Get Moving.

My alarm went of at 3:40. For ten minutes. Morgan was already in the shower and I sleep like I'm dead. Sorry neighbors. Other than that, the morning has gone perfectly smooth. Last minute packing, Red Bulls, even time to post this.

Almost packed.
Two people. Ten days. Two suitcases with a nested spare.
Dad will be picking us in about 15 minutes for our luxurious Rooks Cab Service ride to the airport. Then it's off to Dallas and then to NRT in Tokyo.

Work has been pretty crazy lately so I haven't really had the chance to get really excited about the trip yet... but I think it's finally starting to set in. I'm going to Tokyo.

Unlike Morgan, I can't say I've had life-long dreams of going. No specific stories or reasons to go, but the again, I've always been open to going as well. Its the other side of the world, it's old, it's new, it's East and West.

What am I most excited about? The unknown. I know we're going to see some amazing things and I'm really glad I have absolutely no idea what they are.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Great October Update

Somehow it's already the middle of October, so I'm going to catch up on several things I've been meaning to write about.

We bottled up my unintentional Pumpkin Pie Ale, which Morgan has since named Last Year's Costume. She definitely seems to have a knack for naming my brews, so I've decided to make her Vice-Present of Naming. While we were bottling, I was also cooking up another American Strong Ale. I wanted to brew up something like Great Lakes Nosferatu and I think I came pretty close. I just bottled it today and I think it's the tastiest brew I've made to date, with low to medium bitterness and approximately 11% alcohol. I'm still  waiting on the VP of Naming.

Last Year's Costume in bottles and awaiting caps.
I also turned 32. Which pretty much means I'm old enough to remember things like the Challenger Disaster, French cuffed pants and gas for 87¢ per gallon. Morgan and all of the 'rents took me out to Steak On A Stone, which is definitely my favorite place to get a steak aside from Lance's Beef. I was disappointed that John wasn't able to show us the dragons.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Back to School, Back to School...

It's been ten years since I was in a classroom and thankfully tonight I'm just guest presenting. But given my profession, and the fact that I'm workings towards being certifiably insane, of course I'm blogging about it. Plus it saves me from needing to actually type up an outline or create a slide show. Hopefully Akron's Multimedia Production class will learn something.

I like coffee, I like tea
Me, shockingly with coffee in my hand.
I've spend half of my entire life in a world that was "online". I first started learning HTML in 1992, not that there was much to learn. I published my first web page in 1994 or 95 on Yeah, it was a Star Wars fan page.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I thought I was brewing Butterbeer but really I've made Pumpkin Spice beer

Well, yesterday's brew is in the fermentation chiller and I'm really happy with how smoothly it went. As M said, I've got pumpkin pie in a glass - and I used absolutely zero pumpkin. Sorry Harry Potter fans, but I guess Butterbeer will have to wait a little longer.

Steeping the Grain
Steeping the grains. View more photos on Flickr.
What did I use? Well, I did follow Torri Gunn's recipe quite a bit, although he brewed a half batch, and I brewed a full.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Making Torri Gunn's Three Broomsticks Butterbeer

After brewing the decidedly disappointing Closet Monster, I decided to take some time off from brewing. As much as forgetting to add the priming sugar was a factor, the main reason was our one bedroom apartment was starting to look like a beer warehouse. Thanks to all of my friends who have helped consume some of my brews and to those of you who haven't gotten any, well, I still have a fair stock pile, message me.

Writing the first blog
Enjoying a home brewed Citrus Weiss while I write this blog.
By mid-July the bug was biting me, but I wasn't sure what to brew. Mix in a few busy weekends and all of a sudden it's September. But Morgan found an interesting home brew recipe for Three Broomsticks Butterbeer written up by a home brew, Torri Gunn. If you're not a Harry Potter geek, it's the frothy butterscotch flavored beverage the wizards drink.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Don't tell me what I wanna hear"; or Loving SPIN Magazine's tribute to Nevermind.

Been cleaning out the red letter bin here at the good old blog... the outline stems from a Tumblr post from mid-late July... and now for something completely different.

Like millions of angst filled teens, Nirvana defined the first half of the 1990's for me. Overnight the halls of my middle school were filled with ripped up jeans, Converse All-Stars and flannel shirts. Lyrics to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Come As You Are" were scribbled in the margins of every textbook and on every bathroom wall. While I still prefer the rawness of Bleach, there is no denying Nevermind is the quintessential album of 1991. Perhaps of the early 90's or even the 90's as a whole.

Listen free on SoundCloud. Download free from SPIN on Facebook.
I found out about SPIN Magazine's tribute album Newermind from a Tumblogger I follow, Ian Brooks. When I saw his post about a free Nirvana tribute album, well, I was prepared to club baby seals with other baby seals to get a copy immediately. Thankfully no baby seals were injured in obtaining Newermind. I did have to sell my soul on Facebook by Liking SPIN, but well, whateves. It was worth it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's not 1994, please stop using "Coming Soon"

I'm constantly looking around the web for interesting, inspiring and occasionally funny things to post on my Tumblog so I look at dozens of different websites each week. In the world of Web 2.0 Web 3.0 and HTML5 I find it utterly ridiculous when I find a "Coming Soon" page.

Missing Content Example: Market Garden Brewery. Screenshot taken August 26th, 2011 at 10:43 pm.
Sure, I used some terrifically terrible animated gifs back in the day, but if you were on the web in 1994 you were most likely there for some sort of technical or scientific data. Or porn. Either way, form followed function and it was perfectly appropriate to have some sort of flashing graphic toting that you were under construction and open 24 hours!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Night In CLE

My amazing wife Morgan is a member of the Cleveland Yelp Elite (translation: she writes Yelp reviews that are well received.) and she got invited to a special event at Campbell's Sweet Shop on 25th Street in SoLo (that's SOuth of LOrain for us non-hipsters). The shop is actually pretty cool. The smells were amazing and the confections looked quite tasty.

Pirate Oreos
Chocolate covered Oreo cookies made to look like pirates.
Afterwards we did a roundabout drive through downtown, narrowly avoiding Cleveland Indians traffic and getting stuck knee deep in The Avengers filming traffic. I know that I went to film school and have a completely different perspective, but the number of gawkers was depressing.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Buddy Holly is rolling over in his grave.

Okay this is a total red letter. I started my tirade about two months ago on my Tumblr and decided to move it here for a more detailed explanation, but it seems this got left in the drafts folder. Well... on with the show.

Someone please kill me.

I'm waiting. Seriously.

When I first heard about the Buddy Holly tribute album, Rave On Buddy Holly, I was ecstatic. I love Buddy Holly. There I said it. I love Buddy Holly. Buddy Holly was a genius long before the time of rock geniuses. Sure, some of his singles were utter pop crap, but if you really look at what he did with music and when, well, Buddy Holly rocked that shit. Hard.

Concord Music Group posted the entire album on SoundCloud for you to "enjoy" for free.
Sadly his legacy has been tarnished by his early demise. Tarnish? Yes, tarnished. He's remembered as the guy that sang "That'll Be the Day" and died in the plane crash, not as a songwriter, producer and musician that left a lasting impact on the music industry. If you listen to the body of work he recorded in the four - FOUR - short years of his music career, you can just imagine what he'd have done if he had lived.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Pig 'N Swig at the Happy Dog (AKA I'm a Big Pig Too!)

Poor blog, have I've neglected you. Despite wanting to post this to my Tumblr, I'll go old school and write a blog.

Last night Becoming Rooks and I had an amazing dinner at The Happy Dog; Chef Eric Williams seriously out did himself with his latest dinner pairing, the Pig 'N Swig, a three course bourbon and pork dinner. We've been to all of Chef William's Happy Dog dinners except the first and he always find a way to top himself. It's going to take a lot to top this one.

Course One: Eagle Rare Bourbon
Course One: Eagle Rare Bourbon
Bourbon guru Mike Gully introduced each of the bourbons, starting with the first course, an Eagle Rare 10 year single barrel bourbon; my favorite sipping bourbon of the night. If I was going to drink bourbon for the sake of drinking bourbon, I'd definitely reach for this one. Mike suggested that at 90 proof, it drinks like an 80 proof and I definitely agree. There was a slight burn, but only well after it was deep down inside.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Q: Smoking Some Pork

Do you smell it? The sweet smoke and spices. Sorry if you can't because it smells really good.

Pulled pork... all 17 lbs of it.
I've been waiting to make some true barbecue, sorry Texas, but I'm talking about smoked pork shoulder. I watched some Good Eats, I did some reading, checked out some videos on You Tube and then just jumped. What can I say, I'm fearless. The idea that I'd ruin $100+ worth of pork just never crossed my mine.

Morgan and I went down to the West Side Market and our pork purveyors Mark and Minnie at Jim's Meats, grabbing three pork shoulders and six slabs of spare ribs. In total we walked about with nearly 18 lbs of shoulder and about 21 lbs of ribs.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Market Garden Brewery: People Watching, Good Food and Beer.

I took Friday, July 1st of to get stuff ready for a family barbecue and after we got everything prepped, Morgan and I hit up the brand new Market Garden Brewery on 25th Street for dinner. It's a pretty cool place, much larger than I expected with two full size bars and a reasonable amount of table space.

The Beer Menu
Their outside Beer Garden patio is nice, but it was super busy, so we passed on the 90 minute wait for a table and took the 0 minute wait for a table inside. There are a few tables out on 25th with no wait as well, but they were in the direct line of the evening sun.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

I've been making homemade barbecue sauce for several years. It's pretty easy to do and always tastes better than the store bought crap - even the good stuff you shell out $10 a bottle for. Right Tara? That said, the number one ingredient in my barbecue sauce is ketchup. Store bought Heinz 57.

Whole and Crushed Tomatoes
Yep, good old Heinz secret recipe of 57 herbs, spices, preservatives and high fructose corn syrup. Add some bourbon, molasses, brown sugar, a dash of this, a dash of that and BOOM! Barbecue sauce is born! It's always bothered me that my homemade barbecue sauce, the sauce everyone loves and raves about (cue Tara) is based on some junky store bought ketchup.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Q: Getting the Goods

I've wanted to smoke some pork shoulder ever since I saw the "Q" episode of Good Eats. Alton Brown's mix of culinary skills and mad scientist wackiness makes me want to try just about everything that involves some sort of DIY cooking contraption.

The Wood, Smoker and Hot Plate. Oh, and Alton's Books.
Why some crazy DIY contraption? Because using something in a way it was never originally intended, especially to create some crazy DIY cooking contraption is just cool. Do you need more of a reason than that? I didn't think so! Plus, why use a $50 pizza stone when a $3 terracotta planter bottom works just as good?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Well, I bottled "The Monster". It was a chore, but it's in bottles.

A few weeks back I brewed up my first home brew beer creation, what I've been calling "The Monster", because I really didn't have a good idea what it was going to taste like. After a long weekend of Father's Day festivities, I came home from work with the plan of running and then bottling the beer. Unfortunately Morgan took an unexpected slip and injured her knee. With some luck she'll be just fine, but it put the kobash on running today.

Okay, so it's time to bottle then. I was already behind the curve because I had forgotten to sanitize my bottles overnight, so that took a hour in the dishwasher. Time to prep the bottling bucket, bottling wander, etc. Except I had no sanitizer. Frak. As much as I hated to do it, I used bleach. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.

Forty-Eight Glorious Bottles of "The Monster"
Politics and home brew ethics aside, it truly was a horrible experience. I got high on the fumes in the bathroom and then burned myself a dozen times trying to rise the bleach off with boiling hot water. Not to mention the twenty plus minutes lost to the sanitizing process. At least we got a jump on cleaning the apartment.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Italian Jobs

I'm finally going to finish another movie remake comparison blog. Why? Because I've been stacking our Netflix account with movie remakes, I haven't even been watching them and I really want to see some of the movies in our queue. So after much delay, I finally watched The Italian Job's, the original 1969 film staring Michael Cain and the 2003 remake staring Mark Wahlberg.

Michael Caine as Charlie Croker; The Italian Job (1969).
I saw the remake shortly after it made it to DVD and liked it a lot. Hey, it's nothing special, but it's escapist cinema at it's best - completely implausible, but fun to watch. I made a mental note to watch the original and it only took seven or so years to accomplish.

Despite the high regard I had always heard about the film, it was really hard to watch. I actually stopped watching it midway through and it took several weeks before I worked up the courage to finishing it. Quincy Jones' soundtrack was annoying and the story and characters were, frankly, boring.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My First Creation... An American Strong, Dark, Rye, IPA Type-Thing.

Yesterday we bottled a Citrus Weiss beer, a heavily modified Midwest Supplies kit beer that I brewed a few weeks back. It is likely the finest beer I've brewed so far and I'm really not sure why I haven't written about it yet. The summery aroma filled the apartment and lifted up my spirits.

After bottling, we went to Tremont Tap House, had some tasty burgers and I enjoyed a delicious Rooster Fish Hop Warrior Imperial IPA. Words cannot describe how quickly I fell in love with the Hop Warrior - it's everything I could want in an IPA. The perfect balance of bitter hops, sweet malts; flavorful and aromatic. It's exactly the type of beer I was planning to brew next. As far as beer goes, yesterday was a glorious day!

Drinking a home made American Strong Ale while I write this blog.
Coming off that high, I was excited to brew this morning. I woke up without an alarm ready to steep grains only to realize I didn't have any bottled water. Our tap water is pretty junky and I don't want to ruin good, or even mediocre, beer with it. So, I end up at the Eagle to grab some. It was already hot out, I was under caffeinated and before you know it, I was mega-grumpy, rushing to cook up some breakfast and generally being a pain in my wife's ass.

Somehow I always forget that brewing requires a fair amount of planning and is hard work. I needed to take a step back before I brewed up five gallons of old, wet yak back. I drank some coffee and laid out my game plan - a really good thing because I would have started tossing hops into the kettle at random and rushed intervals, forgotten to sanitize something, like my air lock, and ultimately wasted time and ingredients.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Morning Records: Briefcase Full of Blues by The Blues Brothers

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: my Dad brought me up right. At 12 months, I was listening to Bruce Springsteen. By the time I was three he was telling people to buy me John Cafferty and Johnny Cougar albums. Hey, it was the early 80's - what were you listening to at age three?

Me, sometime in 1980, likely listening to something from the Jersey Shore that wasn't a total embarrassment to the human race.
I learned a lot about music from my Dad. Even years later he was still schooling me; he introduced me to Portishead. Musically he put me on the right track and let me go it on my own from there. He also amassed quite the collection of records, something I enjoyed rummaging through in my early teens.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Is Three years on Twitter worth Celebrating?

I suppose you could call it a milestone; I'm celebrating my three year Twitterversary. Yep, I joined Twitter on May 22, 2008 and as I near my 4500 tweet, I've been averaging about four tweets a day since. As a web designer and content manager, it is sort of my job to know, understand and use, but as a Twitter user, I'm completely apathetic. I find myself questioning it's purpose once again.

My brush with celebrity; Crystal Method direct message me after I mention them in a tweet while running.
I'm sure many people would argue with me, including the folks at Twitter, but I consider it nothing more that a communication service; a utility. Just like the telegraph, telephone and email, it delivers messages from one person to another person or group. There's no smoke. No mirrors. It's great for blasting out my thoughts, photos, videos and geo-location, but I just can't see it as anything more than a soapbox.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I've been married to my True Love and Best Friend for 365 Days!

I really can't believe that it's been a year since I married Morgan Lynn Smyczek!

When we started talking about anniversary gifts, Morgan mentioned that she thought we should stick to the traditional wedding anniversary gifts. The first year is PAPER!?!? What do you get someone for their anniversary that is made of paper?

I read a bunch of anniversary gift ideas and there was a recurring theme about printing photos or commissioning a piece of art. Well, I'm not necessarily an artist, but I do work in design, so I commissioned myself to work this up.

Our vows, key wedding theme elements and out favorite wedding photos, printed as two 8x10 prints and mounted in matching frames. View Larger
After literally a year, I finally posted our lo-fi wedding video. No time like the present! Honestly, the video has been done for quite some time, but I just never got around to rendering out an HD version for the web. There is something hilarious about pushing out a HD version of a video that's layered in lo-fi effects.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Today the Space Shuttle, Tomorrow... Oblivion?

Born at the tail end of the 1970's, I've always lived in a world where man has set foot on the moon; where space wasn't a dream, it was a reality. The space race was something that we'd already won. There was no doubt that the United States would be the leader in space exploration.

The Space Shuttle program held the promise of reusable, reliable and frequent access to exploring the final frontier. And it looked cool. If you had to choose between a space capsule on top of a rocket and a space shuttle, which would you choose? Crash land in the ocean or land your spaceship on a runway? Exactly.

My earliest memories of our space program are framed prints from the first launch on the first mission hanging on my uncle's wall. Something just like this:

STS-1 Launch
NASA launches STS-1 on April 12, 1981 from Pad 39A. Commander John Young and Pilot Robert Crippen are the first astronauts to man a maiden test flight. They complete 37 orbits and spend 54 hours in space aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. Photo courtesy NASA.
In spite of the collective badassery of the Space Shuttle I've just laid out, the only real memories I have are the disasters. I watched Challenger break apart 73 seconds after lift-off from my grandparents living room. Too young to comprehend the magnitude and loss of life, I responded with a childish 'how cool'. The ignorance of innocence.

I watched Columbia break up on re-entry on February 1, 2003. The national news broke in to whatever Saturday Morning cartoon I was wasting time watching and I didn't leave the TV for hours.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spring Cleaning and Making Stock and Chicken Soup

Despite the 50° temperature, cloud cover and rain, it's actually spring. And for whatever reason, I felt the need to clean up the apartment. I mean serious clean. I bleached out the onion cabinet, washed the kitchen floor, emptied, sorted and reorganized the front closet. Serious. Cleaning.

One of my coworkers once commented that she expected my house to be spotless all the time, as my desk is typically uncluttered and clean. Sadly, this isn't the case. We pack quite a bit into this small space and if you don't put something back in it's place right away, thinks get out of hand pretty fast. Add in the never ending dust and it's easy for our place to look like a disaster.

People watching at the West Side Market
If you don't shop at the West Side Market, you really should.
I don't know why, but I always start cleaning in the kitchen and Morgan always takes the bathroom. And for that, she is a saint, because I hate cleaning the bathroom. It's not because it's the bathroom, it's because there are so many different surfaces to clean and they all have tight corners and small spaces. I just don't have the patience. I'm more of a spray it down with cleaner, let sit and then wipe it up. I do kitchens well, bathrooms, not so much. To my Lovely Wife: THANK YOU!!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Brewing up my third Home Brew, a Belgian Blonde

While I'm still not ready to call myself a "Home Brewer", I'm happy with my home brew results so far. In early February I brewed a Winter Ale and I followed that up with an American Strong Ale in late February. I was pretty happy with the American Strong and the Winter Ale was very drinkable.

Prepping my gear and supplies
The family always ends up with some sort of Memorial Day function and I thought it would be cool to debut a nice summer brew there. Well, somehow it's the first week in May and I'm only just brewing, but whatever. Beer is just as tasty on June 11th as it is on Memorial Day.

This morning I started working on a Belgian Blonde Ale. Morgan is a big fan of the Indigo Imp Blonde Bombshell and I've yet to brew something she really enjoyed, so this is my latest attempt. A variation on pale ales, the most common Belgian Blonde is Duvel, which is now available all over CLE. Just like my first two brews, my Blonde is a kit from Midwest Supplies.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mexican themed Easter Dinner by a bunch of Polaks

My wife, Morgan, and I are both part Polish; she's fifty percent and I'm something like a quarter. Many of both of our family traditions are based, at least in part, on our Polish heritage. But we're also adventurous, so when Morgan's sister suggest we do a Mexican themed Easter Dinner, I said 'barbacoa, baby, barbacoa!'

Mise en place, everything looks better in it's place
I have no formal training in the kitchen, but I've loved cooking since I was a kid. I was making grilled cheese and ramen noodles by the time I was 8 or 9 and have been tossing stuff in pots and pans ever since. I love to try new things in the kitchen, so in spite of never making barbacoa before, I knew I could pull it off.

I'm not the best at following a recipe, I'm more of a concept guy. On Good Friday I read several different recipes about how to make barbacoa. Saturday morning while we were eating crepes at the West Side Market, I thought about what I read and whatever I remembered got added into my plan.

Friday, April 29, 2011

We're going to Tokyo for our First Anniversary... even if it's a few months late.

In April of 2009 I asked Morgan to marry me while we watched the sun set in Santa Monica, California.

Santa Monica at Sunset
Santa Monica Pier. Photo: Morgan Rooks
In May of 2010 we got married at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Our Wedding Party. Photo: Studio 222
In May of 2011 we planned to celebrate our one year anniversary in Tokyo, Japan. Then Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11th.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Computers and Blues: The Final Streets Album

Considering this was one of the most anticipated albums that most people have never heard of, I'm a little sickened that I missed the release of Computers and Blues by a solid three weeks. And then it took another month to sit down and type about it. Also, you should start the video below before you start reading, it might help explain this ramble... or not.

The fifth and final Streets album, Computers and Blues, opens with loud, shrill tones and obnoxious auto-tuned vocals, causing me to tense up. The tracks have rough edges, random cuts and radical swings in tone and beat. Something was quite amiss. The album was unfinished; I could hardly listen to it. What had happened?

"I smoked one too many cigarettes, I heard one too many lies. And I’ve gambled on too many bets, I lost it all to this life."
- "Lock The Locks"
Even before the forth album was released, Mikey said he was getting "fucking sick" of it and that he was going to end The Streets with "one more banger", a fifth and final album. Boldly he titled the unwritten, unrecorded album Computers and Blues, stating it would be "dancing music to drink tea to". In the spring and summer 2009, he released a series of free tracks via Twitter and a release date of February 23, 2010 was set. I was on edge with anticipation.

Then Mikey left the grid.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Making My Own Beer, Part 4: Bottle One, Brew One

Well, my first brew is in bottles. I spend five hours on Sunday bottling up the Winter Ale I brewed the week before and brewing up a new batch of beer.

At J.W. Dover, they I got two buckets, a 6 gallon and a 7.9 gallon. While I might be confused, I think I was told the 6 gallon was the fermentation bucket and the 7.9 was the bottling bucket. Regardless, they are both plastic buckets in excess of the 5 gallon batches I've been brewing.

I intended to add spigots to both buckets, but only got one installed on the 6 gallon bucket for brew time. I then used that bucket for my fermenter. When it came time to bottle, I had yet to install the spigot in the 7.9 gallon bucket, so I had a bit of juggling to do.

I drained the fermented beer into the bottling bucket, then cleaned and sanitized the fermentation bucket - which has a spigot - then poured it back into the fermentation bucket for bottling.

And to prevent this back and forth business again, I've opted to flip-flop the buckets, with my next batch of beer fermenting in the 7.9 gallon bucket. Plus it fits better in my fermentation chiller.

Otherwise, bottling was a breeze. Again, thanks to my wife, Morgan, for helping thought the day; she was the extra pair of hands I needed.

The new beer I brewed is another kit beer, Midwest Supplies Superior Strong Ale. The kit included:
  • A premixed bag of Specialty Grains:
    • 8 oz. Brown Malt
    • 8 oz. Caramel 40L
  • 6 lbs Amber LME
  • 3.3 lbs Dark LME
  • 2 oz. Mt. Hood Hops
  • 1 oz. Tettnang Hops
  • Wyeast American Ale #1056 Liquid Yeast
I swear this stuff brewed itself. I steeped the grains at 155° for 30 minutes while we were bottling the Winter Ale, then brought it to a boil. Other than almost forgetting to add the LME, it went perfecting smooth, and that was mainly an oversight due to the bottling. The hop additions were straight forward, the Mt. Hood at the beginning and the Tettnang just before the end.

I improved upon almost every thing on my To Do Better list. I had tons more sanitizer on hand and I'm positive everything got a very thorough cleansing. Moving to the bathtub was much better than using the wash tub, even the 7.9 gallon bucket fits.

Since the LME was a bit forgotten, instead of heating it up, I let gravity do most of the work, then I ladled in some of the boil into the LME bottles, shook and poured them out. I got almost ever last drop of LME. I will definitely do this again... with a funnel, so I don't burn my hand. I also avoided another LME plastic ring mishap.

I can't say I kept a better brew journal this time, but I was definitely more on the numbers. The whole process was smoother and my temperatures seemed to be more consistent, even if I didn't write more stuff down.

While I didn't have a snow bank for my cold break, I did plan a head better this time. I tossed two gallons of water in the freezer on Saturday morning, after pouring out a little for expansion. Next time I'l give them another full day, as there were still some pockets of water.

They got the temperature down to about 150° and a nice cold water soak in the bathtub took it the rest of the way down. In all, I spent about 20 minutes cooling it down. Hopefully some solid ice blocks with reduce that even further.

Using the bathtub for the cold break and then for pouring into the fermenter was definitely the way to go. No messy spills, no difficult clean up and a super convenient drain.

If I had one thing to do over, it would be to not bottle and brew at the same time. While I successfully juggled both, it could have gone wrong easily. If I decided to bottle and brew on the same day again, I will most certainly do one, then the other.

I opted to measure my wort this time, getting an OG of 1.071. I have to admit, reading the hydrometer was a bit of a challenge. The model I have has quite the variety of data points and figuring out which one(s) I needed was a bit of work, but in the end it worked out.

Come Monday morning I swapped out the ice to find it bubbling already, at a semi-steady pace of one every five or six seconds. This evening when I changed the ice in my chiller, I was reading one every two to three seconds and I'm prepared to see some crazy bubbling in the morning.

Did I mention how much I'm looking forward to this beer?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making My Own Beer, Part 3: The Beer is Brewing.

After years of dreaming, months of talking and weeks of plotting I'm finally brewing beer. With a little luck I'll be drinking something in March that tastes less like toxic waste and more like beer.

For Christmas I had asked for a few different beer kits and yesterday I made the Midwest Supplies Winter Ale. The Winter Ale kit includes:
  • A premixed bag of Specialty Grains:
    • 4 oz Carafa II
    • 8 oz Munich
    • 8 oz Cara Wheat
    • 4 oz Chocolate Rye
    • 4 oz Melanoidin
  • 6 lbs Dark LME
  • 3.3 lbs Munich LME
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer Pellet Hops
  • 1 oz Vangaurd Pellet Hops
  • ½ tsp Caraway
  • White Labs German Ale #WL029 Liquid Yeast
Let me just say that buying a pre-drilled bucket is the way to go. Why? Because I had to drill my own spigot hole and I nearly ruined my fermenter. Perhaps using a drill bit and a utility knife wasn't the easiest way to make the hole, but the tools I looked at last night at Home Depot seemed to be more for cutting metal or wood and I was reasonable worried about ruining the bucket.

Maybe I'll swing back and pick up that $5 drill bit thingy anyways, because the 25 minutes it took to force the spigot into the bucket was pretty frustrating. Still, it ended up working out okay and it's actually water tight, which is the most important part.

I grabbed 7 gallons of bottled spring water from Giant Eagle and then set out my supplies to prepare to brew. The sanitizing part went smoothly, although I wonder if I used enough of the Sparkle-Brite. I followed the instructions, but it didn't seem to dissolve as easily as I had anticipated and I'm wondering what will come of that. See my note about more sanitizer in the "Things To Do Better Next Time" section below.

Getting the water to the steeping temperature was pretty easy. Using gallon jugs of water from the store, I filled our electric kettle to the fill line and brought that to a boil. Then I poured the room temperature water left in the bottle and the 212° water from the kettle together into the pot. The net temperature was about 145°. I did this for three gallons of water.

I tossed the grain in to steep at 145° while continuing to heat the water until I hit and maintained 154°. Seems like midway between medium and medium high is the sweet spot on my range. In total my grain got a nice 40 minute soak.

I was a little under prepared for how long it would take to bring the pot to a boil. On high, it took between 25 and 35 minutes. See my note about a brew journal in the "Things To Do Better Next Time" section below.

Last weekend I picked up a 24 quart stock pot and a lid at Dean Supply for $49.00. I had debated whether I needed the 24 qt or if the 20 qt would be large enough, but I'm glad I went with the larger pot. With a three gallon brew, I've got plenty of head room for a healthy foam up at a full roaming boil and no messy boil over. Even had a solid two inches of clean pot left at the peak of foaming.

Honestly the boil was really easy going. It foamed up nicely when it hit a boil and I was starting to get a little concerned, but once I added the first dose of hops, half of the Northerns, the foam completely disappeared and it's stayed away for the rest of the boil. I am surprised as to just how much water boiled away. The recipe didn't mention anything about replacing it back and I've read blogs that go either way. Today I did not top off, but I definitely need to do some reading there.

I did misread my recipe though and forgot to make my hop additions as scheduled. While I'm sure this will impact the final taste, I'm not overly concerned. I've learned my lession: READ. And I'm over it. The Vangaurd hops went in with 16 minutes left and the remaining Northerns went in with 12 left. They were scheduled for 30 and 20 respectively.

My experience with the pellet hops was pretty disappointing; they basically turned to dust when they hit the boil and they made straining impossible. Definitely going to need to look into alternatives here, as this cannot stand.

I did confirmed that I love the taste of hops. I took a taste of the leftover dust of each of the hops and wow. It's a major flavor explosion. Bitter, a bit fruity and quite intense. I even tasted the grains, which were a little sweet and, obviously, grainy.

Although my recipe didn't call for it, I toasted the caraway before dumping it into the brew with about 8 minutes of boil left. As a Good Eats fan, I know that you need to unlock the flavor potential of whole spice by toasting otherwise you might as well be using dust.

In order to cool down the pot, I placed it outside on our balcony in a nice pile of snow. I expected this to help cool everything down quickly, however expectations and reality weren't in alignment. It took about 40 minutes to chill down to 80 degrees, but it did so at a very random pace, so I'm not convinced my readings were all together accurate.

Getting it into the fermenter was also a bit of an issue, with a bit ending up on the kitchen floor, myself and my wife who was kind enough to hold the strainer. Between what I lost during the pour and what I kept in the bottom of the pot with all of the left over hops, I'm guessing I wasted between 12 and 16 ounces.

The yeast packet was nice and convenient, however the little package inside the package was a beast to break. Took a couple minutes to figure out the right way to get it to pop. The ease of pouring it into the fermenter made up for it though. A quick tap on the lid and then pushing in the bubbler and it was off to the fermentation chiller.

All in all, I think I expected to make more mistakes and have this be a much larger undertaking than it was. Honestly, most of the time I was sitting on my ass with just one eye on the pot.

Things To Do Better Next Time:

1) Get more sanitizer. I used an entire 3oz bag of Sparkle-Brite to sanitize everything today, but since sanitation is the first key ingredient in good beer, I think I should have much more on hand.

2) Find a better way to sanitize stuff. The wash tub in the laundry room worked okay, but it was inconvenient and a bit troublesome. Plus the fermenter bucket didn't really fit in the sink and there is no way the taller bottling bucket will ever fit.

3) Maintain better heat on the LME. I did heat my LME, but I guess I did it too far in advance, as they were cool by the time it came to getting them in the pot.

4) Pull the plastic rings of the LME containers. Yep. It went in the pot. Yep. I fished it out.

5) Keep a better brew journal. I kept making mental notes about time, temperature, etc, but I relied to much on my brain power and ended up loosing track of stuff.

6) Find a better and fast way to chill the liquid down. And I'm not buying a wort chiller... yet. I quote Chris Knight: "Ice is nice!"

7) Find a better way to pour from the pot into the fermenter. I think some reading is in order here, but at the very least this needs to move to the bathtub so I don't splash on my wife or coat the kitchen floor in proto-beer.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Making My Own Beer, Part 2

After far too long, I've completed the beast. Mostly. My son of fermentation chiller is now 99% assembled and I'm relaxing with a Brooklyn Winter Ale. After a long day and a run, I'm just far to lazy to post pictures or video now.

Finally get to the rest of those Christmas ales in the fridge. Tonights brew: @BrooklynBrewery Winter Ale.

As for the chiller, I've got the hardware installed, the weather striping in and other than running out of caulk, I'm ready to call it finished. While I plan on doing a full walk through later this week, I really can't impress how difficult it is to get the weather striping to stick to the foam.

I'm quite happy with the few minor modifications that I made to the design of the baffle. Most notably, I did not fix the baffle in place. Instead I've got it hanging in place on some screws. Why? I wanted to have flexibility in my ice chamber - especially when it comes to getting the ice in and out.

I also added a fan to the bottom of the baffle to increase air flow. In my initial temperature tests during my Thanksgiving turkey thaw, I noticed that it did melt the ice faster, but that it definitely increase the chilling power. I'll give it some tests and see if it's really worth while. Worst case, I just caulk it into place.

Then I notched the top of the baffle to house the temperature control unit. It's a nice central location and allows for easy routing of my cables, especially the power cable, which I have coming out the rear panel at the top.

Also, M and I hit JW Dover Beer Supply store this weekend to get my fermentation and bottling buckets. I opted for plastic because, well, they were cheap. The only downside of the Dover buckets was... I have to drill my own hole for the spigot.

Still, I'm very close to my first brew session. With some luck - and more motivation - I'll be brewing some beer this weekend.

As for the Brooklyn, well, it was drinkable. It's already gone and I didn't hated one sip. It's roasted and nutty with a hint of caramel. While I wouldn't list it in my top three Christmas brews, it's definitely drinkable.

And now... it's time for beer two. What are you drinking? Have any recommendations?