Tag Archives: home brewing

Cucumber in beer? Of course!

When I first started typing this post, I did so while drinking a glass of Coolcumber (made by the fine folks at Wicked Weed) which is brewed with, you guessed it, cucumber. Yes, cucumber and beer can apparently happily marry and also included in this particular brew was basil and juniper berries. That may sound more like the ingredients of some healthy gourmet side dish but the result is a unique and wonderful oddball beer – the sort of drinkable creation that inspired me to try my hand at home brewing!. For now, I’m still sticking with recipes that have been declared newbie friendly but I look forward to the day when I’m sipping from a glass with my own beer brewed with cucumber. Or chocolate and cherries. Or chili peppers. Or maybe something like the mango and habanero double IPA currently in the fridge.

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A sampling of what waits for me on our fridge bottom shelf…the mango and habanero one is the Terrapin in the middle (between an ale inspired by Star Trek and a chocolate stout, what else?). The Coolcumber was devoured before this countertop photograph session.

That all being said, there is such a thing as getting too creative with ingredients and there are admittedly some downright bizarre concoctions out there. Beer brewed with goat brains anyone? Mmmmm…no. Strangely (sadly?) I’m not making that example up. Here’s a link to beerconnoisseur.com’s post from a while back with some outlandish brews that have the more adventurous stomach in mind (including the goat brain one): https://beerconnoisseur.com/articles/strange-brews-10-weirdest-beer-ingredients. I originally thought it easy to say that I’d never consider anything more than mundane additions until the idea of adding catnip to future brews entered my mind. Yes catnip. I have my beloved husband to blame for the notion.

You see, my husband has a wonderful mind that mixes creativity with business and this led him to suggesting that I name future beers after our many cats. Did I mention we have four cats? Well, two according to our lease and two other homeless ones that adopted me. (Plus one or two extra kitties that know where to find a bowl of water and dry food outside when in need). So, since I’m well on my way to becoming the crazy cat lady and have an interest in home brewing, my dear hubby has been encouraging me to combine the two loves. This is a wonderful idea and, once I’ve made a few more beginner batches, I aim to do so. But you see, I have a mind that does not combine creativity with business quite as well. So as I drove home from work today, I began having visions of how to take my nine lives brew to a truly cat-tastic level and this included thought processes such as Oh, what if I put a tiny dose of catnip in the beer? I’m sure it only affects cats…doesn’t it? Of course it does, it would just be another herb, like throwing in mint but cooler and…cattyier. Oh, oh, and I could do a cream soda as a non-alcoholic option because cats love cream…beer idea win, yeah!

This happy eureka lasted only until I started studying up a bit more on how catnip actually affects non-cats (a.k.a. humans). According to WebMD.com’s wisdom under the side effects tab: “Catnip is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth in small amounts. Cupful amounts of catnip tea have been consumed without serious side effects. However, catnip is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when smoked or taken by mouth in high doses (many cups of catnip tea, for example)…It can cause headaches, vomiting, and a feeling of being ill…Because catnip can cause menstruation, it might make heavy menstrual periods worse…”

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Say whaaaat?

Well…goodbye to that idea. I seriously thought catnip only gave furry felines the crazies but it can apparently cause a lot of bad news for us. Plus, catnip “seems to be able to slow down the central nervous system, causing sleepiness and other effects.” That…is…not…a good addition for anything alcohol. 

So, I’m guilty of at least understanding the aspirations of brewers who push the envelope a little too far. But, with the knowledge I’ve gained, I think we should all just say no to catnip.

And goat brains.

And poo (not kidding, if you haven’t checked out the beerconnoisseur.com link yet, there’s a brew made with that too).

 

 

 

 

 

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Hooray I Bottled! Bottles Lack Carbonation Happiness…Boooo!

Hello Dear Blog – like an old friend from high school or college who promised to keep in touch after graduation and then dropped off the face of the earth, I am admittedly dropping a line now for the sole purpose of making amends. This unfortunately isn’t the beginning of your former regularity, however, but more of a case of me stopping by for a visit. With a wedding anniversary on Saturday (6 years with my better and often wiser half!) and company coming in from out of town on Sunday, I won’t dare make any presumptions of trying to make a post this weekend.

Ah, but what is a blog post without illustrations or pictures? Sadly incomplete. Never fear, for I’ve bottled the home brew and have a few pics to share…

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Into a clean and sanitized empty bottle goes the auto-siphon…

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Out goes the auto-siphon after filling the bottle with liquid magic…

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Bottlecapper – locked and loaded!

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Push down on bottle and then lift up…hmmm, does this count as push ups?

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And Viola! (In hindsight, this bottle may be easier to see without the black tarp).

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I started to type a caption about how after each bottle received its crown, it joined the rest of the royal family but the fact these particular crowns have American flags on them leads me to believe that may not be the best direction to take with that.

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And since we’re somewhat on that note, you might be wondering what the deal is with the American flag caps. Well, partly because my husband found them online and I thought they were neat. Besides that, I actually brewed this round on July 4th weekend so it seemed fitting.

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And into the box everyone goes to carbonate for a week or two!

Now since the time these pictures were taken, my second homebrew has had a little time to sit in the closet (the darkest place in our condo) and I’ve sampled a few…and have discovered one teensy weensy problem in that there’s not much in the way of carbonation. Not none, mind you but enough to say Ruh Roh. The brew itself actually tastes better than the last one but the effect is not quite what I was aiming for obviously.

As when I discovered my yeast boo boo from a few posts ago, I sought the wisdom of the peanut gallery via online forums for answers on where I erred (and equally important, for a potential solution). The somewhat relieving discovery is that I’m far from the first person to have this problem though the peanut gallery options for culprits ranged from 1) potentially not having used enough priming sugar or not distributing it enough through the wort, to 2) not having enough yeast left alive to eat up the sugar and belch out carbonation, to 3) simply storing the bottles in a location that’s too cold and hence making the yeast go dormant.

Option 1 is conceivable since the first beer I made came with a bag of corn sugar already measured out and this time I bought a bag from the home brew store with instructions to use roughly half. As far as distribution, I stirred my simple syrup concoction in to the wort with a whisk but admittedly did do a blunder in that I added it to the bottling bucket after I’d already put the wort in. If I end up with a few super carbonated bottles, I’ll know that’s the winner. I doubt it’s Option 2 because the bottles aren’t entirely flat and that means there was definitely still plenty of yeast to finish the party. As far as Option 3, I’m a bit doubtful but have migrated half of the bottles to the laundry room and other somewhat warmer vacationing spots than the closet. The general collective advice was to let the bottles sit for a bit longer to see if carbonation improves (and even shake a few in case the yeasties need to be reawakened from their slumber). So for the moment, I’m in experiment mode.

But hey, this is drinkable science so I’m not complaining. And worst case scenario, I’ll just go with one person’s suggestion in the forums and serve my brew with dry ice. It’ll add to the presentation!     :o)

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The brew saga continues

It’s been a week since I brewed for my German-style wheat beer and put the wort in a fermenter. Since that time, the yeast has been diligently chowing down on sugar and turning it into CO2 and alcohol while the fermenter itself sits nice and cozy in the laundry room. (I use the laundry room because it’s both one of the darkest and warmest spots in the condo – I tried the bedroom closet when making my first home brew and my beloved husband was none too pleased when it started smelling like a brewery in there).

The recipe I’m using is from zymurgy magazine and it just calls for moving onto bottling if things look good or letting the wort stay in the the fermenter for another week. The first recipe I did also included moving my wort into a glass carboy and letting it condition for another week or two before bottling. While this extra step is not a part of the zymurgy recipe, I’ve found it’s one of these personal preferences that lends itself to a bit of disagreement among home brewers as to whether it’s absolutely essential or should never be done. This step also also often called “secondary fermentation” which gets even more people’s knickers in a bunch because the actual fermentation show has pretty much taken a bow and exited stage left by the time you move the wort to another container. Rather than list off the reasoning held sacred and dear to both the the pro-secondary and anti-secondary camps, here’s a quick link to two folks that have done just that: The Great Secondary (Fermentation) Debate by Dave Carpenter and Secondary Fermentation, Pros and Cons by Al Folsom. (Google will provide a plethora of other examples of course but these were two articles that helped me). I was pretty happy with using a secondary on the first go and figured I’d give it another shot with this brew as well.

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First step, take off the fermenter’s lid and behold the wort (that icky looking ring around the top is just the some of the gunk left over after the yeast had its party – and one of the reasons why I’m a fan of transferring to a secondary).

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Nice clean and sanitized glass carboy ready to go!

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Since the wort needs to siphon into the glass carboy that means the primary fermenter gets to sit on a pedestal above it.

Once everything’s in place, the only thing left to do is get that auto siphon to do its magic.

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One end into the primary…

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And the other in the secondary. There was an extra picture my husband took that included more of the auto siphon itself but that also included too much me at a horrible angle so I opted not to use that – this one as my lovely gray slipper in the bottom right corner though so some of me is included.  🙂

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And now we have a glass carboy full of worty goodness and ready to go in the laundry room!

For readers that have been with this blog for a while, I know it seems like we’ve left stories and odd characters behind (though one has to admit that yeast can be quite a unique character itself). I promise we’ll get back to stories that don’t involve fermentation soon!

 

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At Least I Didn’t Kill the Yeast

That’s a rather Dr. Seuss sounding title I suppose but it pretty much sums up my home brewing experience this weekend. In the last post, I mentioned that I’d hopefully get around to starting my next (and second ever) home brew if the necessities of life allowed. After learning the vet clinic I’d planned to go to actually closed early for the upcoming holiday and my work appointment had to be rescheduled, it turned out I actually had the time – hooray! This still somehow resulted in starting late at night but who wants to run a hot gas stove during the sweltering day anyway?

Like the first go, I got a pot of filtered water boiling and added in some malt extract…

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Bubble bubble toil and trouble…well, hopefully not!

Then tossed in some hops…

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Liberty hops  –  what better hops to brew with on 4th of July weekend?

I also mentioned before that one of the major differences between last time and now was the yeast. In the first go round, I used dry yeast that could just be prepped while the wort cooled down. Liquid yeast, which was to be the star of this show, has to be refrigerated before use. This is where common sense eluded me and apparently my memory as well because I swear I read the glass tube’s instructions like any other diligent home brewer and remembered thinking I could just take that puppy out during the cooling phase and be good to go. I thought this the entire time I cleaned and sanitized equipment and all through brewing the malt and hops. Then I took my yeast out of the fridge while the wort started cooling…and realized the directions actually say to take it out 3-6 hours before use!

This quickly presented a rather major problem as obediently following these instructions meant my star of the show would not be ready for the stage until 3am at the earliest. Upon realizing my blunder, I did what any slightly panic-stricken home brewer would do and searched through online forums to see if anyone else had been just as silly and what they’d done about it. The general peanut gallery advice I gained warned of the yeast not working and potential “off” flavors if the 3-6 hours instructions weren’t followed. One post suggested putting the yeast in some warm water to help wake it up a bit faster and so I gave my little glass vial a bath.

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This “speed up” attempt was not a great idea either but in the wee hours of the morning, desperate times call for a glass of lukewarm H2O.

Along with this boo boo came the hunt for a thermometer – again something I thought I was good to go with up until I desperately needed it. When I went to check the temperature of my cooling wort, I noticed something very odd about my instrument of choice…it started at 100 degrees Fahrenheit/40 degrees Celsius. I had sanitized and attempted to check my home brew’s temperature with our candy thermometer! Sigh…maybe late night brewing was not such a grand plan.

I searched for the thermometer I used last time but firmly believe by this point that it has grown legs and run off somewhere. Maybe it had dreams of becoming an actress in New York or something. Godspeed little thermometer and good luck.

This obviously presented another conundrum as yeast tends to be very picky about wort’s temperature and, like Goldilocks, needs that “just right” range of things to be happy and content with the world. If the wort is too cold, the yeast will say “hump, I’m going back to bed, it’s too cold to work!” and nothing will happen. If the wort is too hot, the yeast will die (and no one wants zombie yeast roaming around). I did consider running out to Walgreens or some other place that might be open after midnight and grabbing a digital thermometer off the self but also feared that my wort would become too cool in the time it took for me to go out and get one. I won’t go into all the thermometer fun that occurred but suffice to say, I remained thermometerless.   :O

My wonderful husband (who is quite often the one between us possessing more common sense and calm in such situations) pointed out that we had the condo’s thermostat set to about the temperature suggested on the yeast’s vial. So using the ultra scientific and accurate method of touching the sides of my fermenter to feel if it felt room temperature (and hence, in that 70-75 degree range), I pitched my almost-but-not-quite-ready-according-to-the-label yeast into what I hoped was truly not a death bed for it. As I put the airlock in and headed off to bed, I didn’t know what the fate of those little yeasties truly was.

But then I woke up this morning to this…

While not reason to throw a party just yet, bubbling in the airlock is what we want to see because it means the yeast is doing its job and belching up CO2 as result. This is also is a very good sign that I did not murder the innocent vial of yeast.

It remains to be seen, however, if this batch will be a success or prove me to be more of a mad scientist this round.

 

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Time for the next brew

This weekend we had friends stop by the condo for a quick minute and then we all piled into a car to celebrate my husband’s birthday. It was a great night but of course I went into my usual semi-neurotic mode of cleaning things up before they got here. Carpet cleaned and even treated it with one of those perfumed dirt cleaner uppers beforehand. Toilet beautiful enough to drink out of (though if you ask one of our cats, that’s always true). Tables, while not entirely spotless, were at least devoid of their usual amount of random litter. So when our friends stopped by for that quick wee moment, I felt pretty good about how the place looked – except I’d completely forgotten to remove the small plethora of empty beer bottles from the living room and kitchen and my efforts ended up presenting myself as a very tidy lush. Sigh.

While I am very much a fan of carbonated fermented yeast and hops, those bottles actually serve a much higher purpose than presenting themselves as an unintended  eyesore. You see those many bottles will, hopefully within a month or so, become glass abodes for my next home brew. (Yeaaaahhhhh! Let’s all do a happy dance! Come you, yes you – dance!)

Since my first try at home brewing yielded results that were surprisingly drinkable, I’m giving it another go! I’ll be going “by the book” again like I did with the last one as I don’t want to get too experimental until I’ve got a few successful batches under my belt but there’s definite differences already. For one, this recipe will be for german-style wheat beer rather than the simple ale I made the first time and instead of dry yeast, I’ll be using liquid yeast housed in what looks like a test tube.

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And the bottles? Well, they got themselves a good scrubbing this weekend.

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Soaking and getting off labels from a few commercial bottles.

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Each and every one gets a good scrub with the brush and then a trip in the dishwasher.

Of course, before bottling I’ll need to brew my lovely wort and fermenting will need to take place. Unless cat vaccinations and other life requirements deem otherwise, that just might be next weekend.

 

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Our closet smelled like beer – and that’s a good thing!

Hello dear ones, there will be no story snippet tomorrow – or rather later today as it will no doubt be in the wee hours by the time I post this. To be both honest and blunt, I’m working both Saturday and Sunday and have an interview on the latter (wish me luck!) so this weekend is just too filled to the brim for me to even think about trying to write and illustrate. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, this is probably a perfect time to share my adventures in home brewing thus far…

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Ingredients for my first attempt at home brewing – I used a True Brew kit for a pale ale (supposedly one of the easiest types of beer to brew).

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Time to brew some tea…er, grains!

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Looking pretty!

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I wonder if the squirrels and birds will find a bag full of brewed grains tasty?

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After adding the malt extract and wonderful, wonderful hops (and sanitizing my equipment like crazy) the wort went into my primary fermenter with a packet of yeast. With the help of my husband, the bucket made its way to our bedroom closet because it was the warmest place in the condo and I feared fermentation wasn’t actually happening after only seeing a few measly bubbles show up in the airlock. After sitting in the closet a few days, my husband complained our closet smelled like a brewery. Good sign!

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After taking a 2nd gravity reading and confirming that my little yeast friends did in fact do their job, it came time to siphon the wort future beer into my glass carboy for second fermentation (not actually a necessary extra step according to some folks but I’m sticking to the recipe steps on this first try). The carboy now resides in our laundry room since that’s an even warmer spot and will sit there, covered up with black tarp and a cloth, for another week before it’s time for the next step – bottling! Unfortunately that will be followed by more waiting but that just gives me time to start planning out my next recipe choice while waiting to drink the fruits of my labor!

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