Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Ice Cream Beer Float

Last night we went to the Flying Saucer and had a few beers with Russ, my brother-in-law. Kayla started off with the European flight, a collection of 5 euro-beers in 50z glasses, I had a Murphy's red since I'm currently making one and Russ had, well I can't recall. Second round russ like my Red so much he went with it and I wanted Kayla to try a the Young's Double Chocolate Stout, so I ordered one since she was still working on the flight. About half way through the Stout I started contemplating out loud whether or not we should try the Ice Cream Beer Float that the saucer offers with the Stout. Well, Kayla said she could see how it would taste good so she called our waitress and we ordered one.

Formerly I had not been able to wrap my mind around what this might be like. I mean I've had the stout before, and I've had vanilla ice cream before, but combining the two was giving my imagination nothing but brick walls. Kayla started in on it by getting a big spoon full of ice cream and sort of dipping it down in the beer. I followed her lead making sure to grab a bit more of the beer part of the equation. I thought, if this is gonna work it has to work on it's own merits, not because I drowned one taste with the other. I could immediately tell that my tasted didn't have enough beer. I could hardly taste it, but I think this might be the best way for a first timer to ease into this particular concoction, also I was intrigued. Since I wasn't disgusted by the combo I started drinking from the straw while Kayla kept eating the ice cream. My theory was that since this was a float it would do that thing that all floats do when the Ice Cream to Root Beer ratio hits a magical number and the drink transcends to a place of joy and merriment. And, to my immense surprise, I. Was. Right. About half way down on the glass there were 3 or 4 drinks that were little gulps of taste heaven. After those swigs the ratio tipped to much toward the Ice Cream for me, as all floats do, and I watched for Kayla to get to her own heavenly ratio. She like the scale tipped much further to ice cream than me, but the little gulps of taste heaven were there for her too.

So, if you find yourself close to a Flying Saucer of have so Young's Double Chocolate around, give this a try. I was skeptical, but we were bold, and fortune favors that I hear.

RKW out

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blessed are the Beermakers pt. 2 - Brew Day

Most of the beer brewing process is a passive experience, but the first day, dubbed "Brew Day," requires constant activity for the better part of 5 hours. This is how my Brew Day went:

Got home with the supplies (Honey Nut Scooters are not part of this particular brewing session) and started a couple of gallons of water heating up. I would heat that water to 150-155 degrees in order to steep my specialty grains into what brewers call a "Grain Tea." So I dumped all of my milled grain into a grain sock, turned the heat down, and let my grain steep for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile I filled my 7 Gallon Brewer's Bucket with water and sterilization chemical, and put every thing that would eventually touch my beer in that water. Bacterial infection is a big deal in beer making; present and active bacteria make bad tastes and can completely spoil a wort. After 30 minutes I grabbed up my grain sock and let it drain as much as possible. This is what the spent grain looks like.

So now I had a couple of gallons of grain tea to add my extract to. Remember I said it was like really thick syrup, well that syrup has to be diluted down to less viscous consistency so that it can be boiled. I got the syrup diluted down and added enough water to get me up to 6.5 gallons in the biol pot, brought it up to a boil and sat back for a bit. After 30 minutes of boiling it was time to add the Hops. I'm sure you heard of these in a Sam Adam's commercial, but mine are a bit different. Some home brewers opt for the whole hops that you see in beer commercials but the more cost effective version of hops look like this:

Those little pellets break up inside a cheese cloth sock and impart the same sort of bitterness that you would get from whole hops. Now as with almost anything the more fresh and unprocessed your ingredients are the better, and any brewer will tell you to move to whole hops when you can, but for me the cheapness wins for now. So I add those hops with an hour left in the total boil time that is required by my recipe and I wait for that hour to pass. When it's done boiling, I have a true blue Wort, just waiting for a bit of yeast to turn this into a party.

But before pitching yeast I need to do two things. First the wort is much to hot for yeast to survive so I must bring the temp down to an acceptable level for them to live, and the goal is to hit a level at which they do their work the best (more on this later). Second, is to activate the yeast, as my yeast comes dry, like baker's yeast. So a get a bit of warm water and mix in the dry yeast which makes a smelly little paste and I dump about a pound of sterile ice into my wort. I tried power cooling in my fridge and also ice bathing my bucket but nothing was getting the temp down fast enough so I resorted to diluting my wort a bit for the sake of shortening the amount of time the Wort would be in the "Danger Zone." Once it was in the correct range I transferred it over to my Brewer's Bucket and shook the heck out of it to aerate it. The purpose behind aeration is that yeast will reproduce when Oxygen is available, and since I don't necessarily have enough yeast to ferment the entire wort I want some reproduction to happen right off the bat. Also this process allows the Yeast to overrun and rogue bacteria or wild yeast that may have floated in. So after aeration I pitch the yeast in and slosh it around to disperse and clap on the lid and affix my CO2 lock. Which looks like this:

This device is a vertical tube with another bigger tube around it and another around the whole thing. When filled with water, or in my case Vodka because it's sterile, It allows gasses to escape a closed system with out letting gasses back in. But, didn't I just say that we need oxygen? For the very beginning of the fermentation this is true, but after there are enough yeast cells present you want them to stop reproducing and start eating sugars. As long as Oxygen is present they will continue to reproduce and break down the sugars way farther that the alcohol we are looking for. So as their CO2 pushes the oxygen out we want to keep it out. This valve also prevents pressure build up, since yeast make a LOT of CO2 when they are fermenting. At this point the passive part of the brewing process begins. Depending on the Beer the fermentation can take from a few days up to a week. We'll be checking on this one in 5 days.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Blessed are the Beermakers pt. 1 - The Recipe

This is the first part of a several part series covering my second attempt at home-brewing beer. Not that my first attempt was unsuccessful, it was quite successful in my mind, as I made a serviceable Brown Ale. I didn't document my first go and regretted that. From now on I'll be documenting each subsequent attempt.

Preface -
My first batch of beer was made from a canned extract, which means that I opened a can of a concentrated wort syrup (very simply, a wort is the solution of grain, hops and water that is the basis for the future beer, companies concentrate them into syrups for the homebrewer's market) and boiled it with a few gallons of water to make my own wort. I then cooled that wort and moved it to a special fermentation bucket and added yeast for fermentation.

After my first go I do not consider myself by any means an expert in the field, or even all that proficient, but I did feel like I was ready to up the challenge ante a bit. So I moved from the full extract "wort in a can" approach to what is called the "Extract with Grains" method. The "Extract with Grains" method means that I would be using a Malt Extract base and choosing a few grains of my own choosing to build the flavor profile.I think of it like this: if you are building a house you have a few options for foundation. You can have concrete, pier and beam, stilted, etc. Less than 10 choices total, let's say. Virtually every house on the planet is built on one of these types of foundations, and beers are very similar to that. The "Malt" is the foundational base of the beer and what ever kind of beer you are making starts with one of a few types of Malt bases. Many homebrewers buy the malt in extract form because it's difficult to make and doesn't offer a whole lot of customization options, a concrete foundation is a concrete foundation. "Real" beermakers will make their own malt so that they are in control of the flavor profile from start to finish. So I'm not making my own malt, I trust the malt extract available to me and add my own profile of grains. Which brings us to...

Step 1: The Recipe -

As I stated, while I feel comfortable with the process, I'm not by any means expert, so I did not write a recipe for the beer I would make. I went to the homebrew store with two goals in mind: 1. Up the ante with the "Extract with Grains" method 2. Move to a "Two Stage Fermentation Process (more detail later)" The only thing I knew about the recipe was that I wanted to make an Irish Red Ale. So Kayla and I drove down to Homebrew Headquarters in Richardson, propped my elbows up on the counter and told the Shopkeep about my plan for my second go at the process. I told him I did not however have a recipe in mind and that I would trust his judgment for a good recipe for Irish Red. He pulled the following for me:

6.25 lbs Pale Ale Malt extract
3oz. Crystal Malt Grain
7oz. Roasted Barley
1lb 6oz. Pail Ale Malt Grain
8 AAU (Acid Alpha Units) of UK Target Hop Pellets
11g. Nottingham Brewer's Yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae)
1 cup Corn Sugar for Priming

He also milled the grain for me and grabbed me some new equipment (Grain Sock, Glass Carboy, and Hop Sock ) for the more complicated process. With my bucket of syrup and bag of milled grain, and new hardware, I headed home to start the fun.

Part 2 Coming Soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bioshock 2

The following contains major plot spoilers, read at your own risk. I finished up BioShock 2 last night and I feel pretty good about the overall experience. I will say though, that out of the gate I had to overcome a bit of disappointment. The game tells you from the that you are one of the first Big Daddies, dubbed "Delta," which means that you aren't regulated to carrying one weapon and you can also use the same plasmids that are available to the rest of the Rapture world. I read that to say that I would be much more powerful this time through Rapture, and much harder to kill. Alas, I was not. Somewhere between the second and third train stop I got the notion that my character was not unlike the frail protagonist from the BioShock Sr., and there fore my gameplay should perhaps mirror that style. When I made that decision the game immediately became immensely more enjoyable. Now, I may be splitting hairs to be complaining about this learning curve, but I guess I just don't like being lied to when it's unnecessary. As you play through the game, and specifically, as you listen to the diary records, you find out in a round about way why it is that everything can still beat the crap out of you as if you were an ant among gods. I really don't mind that the random Leadhead Splicer can drop me in 3 shots, as long the game didn't tell me that I'd be a Juggernaut, it could have just told me I'd be an ant.

Okay that's out of the way. After I made the realization that I would have to start playing this iteration much more like I played its predecessor, I was able to get into the groove of the game and start experiencing the rich world and deep story arc it offers. I'll say first that I wish I had already been a father before playing this game, because the story affected me at the emotional core that I have already built for my future children. My assumption is that it hit much harder for those who are already fathers. This is the game's real value in my opinion. Most efforts in this industry seek to entertain your mind; distract you. Bioshock 2 seeks to engage you on a more human emotional level. When I walked up to the quarantine room before the final act of the game, the plot twist that I expected right down to the ground, was that the next set of circumstances would force me fight my daughter. But, as it turns out, I had already had my fight with my daughter, and it was a fight that rang much more real to me than I have seen in this media. She had been watching me, and learning, you know, like children do. My actions had shaped her, my decisions had informed her conscience. When the game revealed this to me, I had that panicked moment that you get when you think someone has found you out. I frantically inventoried the decisions I had made, wondering if I was the right kind of example, or if I had steered her wrongly, and all the while knowing that whatever I had done it was too late to change it. I wonder what it would have been like if I actually had a daughter and this game I was playing held that mirror up to my face....

The game also made for me an, I think, inadvertent comment about what it might take to create a Utopian society. Lamb is the perfect example of that old proverb, "The path to Hell is paved in the best intentions." She believes that in order to achieve utopia, that one must sacrifice not only self but sense of self and with it conscience. "Conscience is a curse," she says to Delta. I disagree with her, and since she is the antagonist, the game seems to disagree as well. She is proposing to create and individual with not even the slightest propensity toward evil. I would argue that good must be chosen of free will. I think that the greatest gift that God ever gave humanity was the freedom to choose. Humans have in them a great potential for good, and in order for that to have any value they must also have in them a great potential for evil. The power that we have to choose gives good its value, it can only be defined in reference to its opposite, other wise it is neither good nor evil it just is.

So, that's my piece on Bioshock 2. Overall I give it an A-.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dusting Off the Old Blog

Sometimes you have a little time on your hands and all you wanna do is dust off the old blog. So here I am. I don't really know where this is gonna go, but I'm gonna start with something short and simple.

We just got back from Angelfire, where there was a bit of snowfall over the weekend. I noticed something that had me thinking several times during ski lift rides. When snow is falling and its very cold, and all that you would expect a tree to do is lay in calm silence waiting for spring, they do something quite different. They shudder. When they are weighed down from catching snow they grow weary and they shudder, letting their load fall to the ground. Now I know that there is a better explanation for this phenomenon, but I'm sticking with the personified trees on this one; they shudder.