Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nutty Bruce's Brown Ale and Tangerine Mojo update

Bruce, Mike and I couldn't have asked for a more luscious day to brew. I woke up this morning and it was crispy by Central Florida standards, roundabout 55F or so. Good coffee morning, good chilly morning to suck down a cup of joe, meander out into the backyard and fill my kettle with water to heat.
There are so many great things about simple, backyard brews, and one of them is the fact that you can actually leave your backyard to run errands while your kettle heats up. I found myself truckin' on down the road in the GMC with the wife going to the Lowe's Garden Shop for mulch, flowers and other things to solely keep her happy. We were on our way home going down our neighborhood street when I saw someone putting down a beautiful red oak from their backyard. Thirty minutes, that was just enough time to fill the bed of the truck with a couple cords of fine wood for next winter, oh and by the way my "frustrated with the wife" workout (chopping wood can be extremely therapeutic when you are angry). After all this I still wasn't hot enough to strike a mash.
Mike shows up on a triathlon bike weighing less than my finger and Bruce shows up in his truck full of glass carboys and away we go!
Striking the mash, we shared stories and worries about the future. I could bore you with them but I won't, suffice to say we did what all men do in the backyard, talked about taxes, culture etc. whilst whittling wood and watching the kettle. The day warmed up to a perfect seventy two F. and we were just loving the clear blue skies, no wind and perfect weather. I would classify this day as one God has blessed me with, I couldn't live in a more wonderful place in the world.
We tasted my Tangerine Mojo, which has already been racked from primary and into secondary. Most of the heavy fermentation leg work is done but there is still quite active Champagne yeast working around raw, wonderful pulp. Mike commented that it tasted like a Mimosa and I agreed only to add that it had a pleasantly sour element on the top like a Belgian or Biere de Garde. Yeast and pulp alike are continuously settling and I will probably be racking it from tank to tank for quite a while. The champagne strain is so complete in fermentation and crisply dry without being a tart. I'll rack it til it's clear of pulp and then prime and bottle, this mojo is a cocktail that needs to be served chilled and naturally carbonated. Hard to believe it only cost me time and a couple of packets of cheap, dry yeast. Everything else except the sugar was free and living in Florida that stuff is like sand.
As for the Nut Brown, I hadn't made it in many years and was looking forward to reintroducing Victory Malt to my system. The strike temperature was little low but the setpoint for starch conversion was well within the parameters. We had an excellent boil and cool down, transferred to Bruce's glass carboys for him to take home, ferment in his closet, fill his keg and enjoy. One seven gallon carboy will use the Nottingham strain while the other three gallon carboy will use the French 1056 dry strain version (Safale '56). Man oh man, what a day, what a beer, the relatives up North are still dealing with snow and we get to play in Eden!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Soda Soda Tangerine Mojo #31 2009

Soda Soda Tangerine Mojo #31

Friday, February 13, 2009:

In an effort to get back to the ultimate grassroots brewing I have decided to take my neighbor Pat’s tangerine tree hostage. Actually, the truth is that Pat is a really great guy but he just doesn’t like to pick fruit, which is a terrible shame for him because he happens to own a tangerine tree twenty feet tall that contains some of the best juicers this side of the State. In order to feed my brewing habit and create a symbiotic relationship with Pat I have volunteered to pick his tree clean.
Try picking twenty gallons of tangerines by hand with your wife standing in the driveway laughing at you. After my first bucket I climbed up the center of the tree, grabbed it with both hands and shook like hell, hundreds of beautiful fruit falling gently to the grass and a look of awe from Leah. Without batting an eye she looks at her friend DJ and tells her “ I bet he was thinking of me when he did that just then”. The truth is that I never would think of something as violent as throttling my lovely wife but I thought it was funny, too!
Seventeen gallons of fruit later and I found myself juicing like a madman in the kitchen. By the time my sissy boy juicer gave out I had about five and a half gallons, with which I also added one pint of Boston Hill Wildflower Honey, four pounds of sugar (simplified) and tossed in two packets of Pasteur Champagne yeast, pushing the airlock on and sending to my closet for a couple of weeks.

There is also a story behind the name, Soda Soda Tangerine Mojo. It just so happens that one day when I was a young and stupid Marine in the Philippines we had staged all of our amphibious vehicles in a bayside submarine base called Subic. While pulling maintenance duty one afternoon there was this little Philipino fella that kept coming by with a wheelbarrow full of Coke, Pepsi and ice, yelling “Soda, Soda. Soda Soda!” It was a wonderful song that kept in my head all of these years.
Oh, and also, one of the staple drinks at the time on McSai-Sai Boulevard was the mojo, some violently wonderful cocktail comprised of local fruit and rum and/or vodka or miscellaneous alcohol, whatever was available. A few glasses and you were schnokerred to the point of stumblization, especially if you were a twenty one year old who was just getting off a boat after two months.
This will be my version of mojo, in honor of a Philippino dude who sang a song that stayed with me my whole life and a long gone place that created a fantastic Island drink that was just as memorable.
I will keep you posted when it goes in the bottle!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Getting Rid of Gas

I cannot stand the fact that propane is so expensive. I usually go through a small tank every 2 to 3 brew sessions, finding myself packing the empty cylinder in the back of my truck along with Abby (Great Dane/Sharpei and Momma's Girl) and trekking to the corner gas station or nearby Home Depot for an exchange. It can cost as little as fifteen and as much as 25 bucks for new gas. That can be just over eight bucks per brew, and considering the grain and hop bill for a ten gallon batch can run as much as 40 bucks you can see that it is slowly beginning to get expensive to make the brew these days.
Let us not be crazy here, though. Even fifty bucks or so for ten gallons of fine handcrafted brew is a deal, going for something less than fifty cents per glass, adding in electrical and cooling costs. Overall in my entire brewing career I have been most pleased with direct fired propane systems as compared to electric steam generators and other methods. There are benefits, the first that comes to mind is the quick flash point and pleasant caramelization effect on some of my ales. It is also awful nice to have strike-temperature water from room temperature in the same amount of time it takes for me to realize that Gilligan is not getting off the Island in this episode.
My friend turned me onto a welding buddy of his who erected one of those "tree" systems with three burners and gravity feed, all the nice stuff any brewer would want. I went to see the system and slobbered all over it like Abby over a biscuit for about an hour or so. Look how simple it is, you don't even need to climb a ladder to fill the hot liquor tank, see the quick disconnect (OOOHH, AHHHHH), etc. No more ladling! No more overaeration of wort! Even heat distribution from several points of contact! Easy cleanup! It all sounded like a brewer's dream and I am sure that there are many brewers out there who would love a system like that one, Jay surely did a fantastic job on it. Perhaps one day I will be able to convince the real BOSS (translated:Wife) of the family to shell out the 800 smackers or so to set myself up with the "Tree".
Then, as usual, I climbed out of my little dreamworld and stepped back into brewing reality. One of the main reasons I got into brewing to begin with was to save money, how in the world am I gonna save money by spending so much on equipment? I guess I'm the kinda guy who would rather spend a little less money and drive a Lincoln with all the features I want than refinance the house on a Caddy. After a few Red Ales and a nice Maduro I was struck with a thought: Why not go old school?
I am a wood chopoholic. I love to chop wood, it is a great workout and I actually have something to show for my efforts at the end of a sweaty workout unlike those five percenters at the gym. For those who don't know, five percenters mean the guys with five percent body fat, most of it in their head, working out each individual muscle on fantastic contraptions and treadmills while listening to death metal and sucking on an energy pooooop-sicle. Anyhow, back to the wood. It is nice to have a cord or two of it in the backyard in case it actually falls below forty degrees in central Florida (maybe a handful of times), and it is also nice to have the fireplace to set THE MOOD, if you knowwhutImean. A nice fire, a little homebrew, some Dean Martin on the phono, you get my drift.
With all of this wood in the backyard I thought of digging a pit and then thought twice as I really am not a redneck contrary to popular belief. Anyhow, too many deep roots in the ground to make it easy so it was on to a better design. How about a brick oven? I could double it's use as a kiln for claywork if I chose and it could also double as a hot plate instead of the typical gascrap contraption you find at the Depot. Maybe a simple coal oven with a lift of some kind like the old kettles in Medieval times.
After pondering my thoughts over several more pints I decided to design system that was easy and included a lot of components I already have. The design will begin with a half barrel keg sawn in half with four steel posts running waist high. A sturdy rack will be placed on top as such to make it easy to remove ash. I plan on a double pulley trailer winch attached to the side and running up and out on a limb of my great oak in the backyard. This line will carry two seperate kegs, one hot liquor tank, the other mash tun. The brew kettle will not be initially attached but will have a hook connect if I need to raise it off the heat in order to avoid a boilover.
The idea is simple. Start a small charcoal fire, build it with wood and heat my strike water, gravity feeding from the arm into the mash tun, turning to mash tun to the heat for decoction mashes if necessary or applicable. After starch to sugar conversion sparge directly in the same manner and drop the wort into the brew kettle laying on the heat rack. As sparge comes to an end, transfer the grain out of the mash tun and directly into a trash barrel using height and gravity to my advantage.
Attach the brew kettle hook to the winch arm and boil. If there is a chance of boilover lift the winch accordingly until you are in the safe zone. When boil is complete lift the winch and move the arm away from the heat, chilling with the wort chiller and transferring to primary into the cooler.
All of this sounds like a lot of work but if I could save ten bucks a batch I could cover my buildout costs in less than half a year, now that is some capital finance savings realized in a short time if I ever saw it, and I don't even know Rupert Murdoch personally. I do know what's in my bank account, though, and this sounds like a no-brainer to me.
The smoke might even make my brew more distinctive, you never know.