Category Archives: Beer

How’s It Growing?

IMG_3587 Hops and Roses

I want to obsess over my yard for a moment.

I have always lived in small towns or rural areas until I moved to Charleston, WV, which at around 50,000 people isn’t that powerful of a city. So, I was wondering if I’d be miserable moving to Columbus, which has over a million people in the metro area. But, I’m not! I love it! We have a tiny house with a south facing yard next to a river. Aaand we are within walking distance to a vegan bakery!

I often say though, you can take a girl out of the country, but you can’t take the trash out of her yard.

We have 11 4×8 foot food-related garden plots this year, separated by scrap wood for walking on. The cats love walking along the wood planks and it keeps them out of the seedlings, sometimes…Three beds are already planted with cold weather plants (lettuce, broccoli raab, garlic, peas, onions, etc.) plus our berries and hops are growing like it’s June. Which, weather-wise, it basically is.

We have 4 sorts of hops – Centennial, Cascade, and uh, two others. Who can remember this crap? We planted them last year. They grew lackluster but put out enough hops for one batch of beer. This year they are growing like crazy and chocking out the old rosebush that puts off one bloom per year.

In the meantime, there is 6 gallons of wine bubbling away in the kitchen. From a kit. We almost got grapes last year, but then we changed our minds. I’m not sad about it.

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And our army of seedlings are growing, little by little. Most of these will go out in late April or so.  We started them in the egg trays and cardboard tubes but the cardboard molded. And I was not overwatering! Blergh. Never messing with that again.

I transferred them into plastic pots till I ran out, then used mushroom containers till I ran out, then we remembered seeing a bunch of pots leftover from some University landscaping last summer by the river. They have been quite an eyesore by the river for the last year, but now they are full of seeds at my house.

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We have a grow light (read: a shop light) inside but they are so much happier in the sun. I am not so happy dragging them in and out every day, but it’s just part of the routine.  Whenever I get sick of it, I just imagine eating fresh greens…

Apple Time!

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This was really one of our first free weekends since July so we went to an apple orchard. We were going to go to a Paw Paw festival, but eh, it was an hour and a half farther away.

We saw they had boxes of “seconds” or “canning” apples for $5 a half bushel. So, we bought four. Then we walked around the orchard for a few hours, not picking any, because our trunk was already full.

Are we crazy? What if I told you we’d already bought a half bushel of apples at the farmers market that morning? What if you have no idea what a half bushel is? I can tell you – it is a bit smaller than a printer paper box.  A bushel is about 50 lbs. SO we now had 125 pounds of apples. Is this possible? Maybe we had less.

Apple Cider! OK, so, my favorite tool EVER is the apple-corer-slicer that we got at the Goodwill for $5 this summer in anticipation of Apple-Time. Here is a HOT VIDEO of one.  Let me tell you, I am much faster at using those things than that person in the video.

Matt wanted to make apple cider, and we were told we’d get about a gallon and a half from a each half bushel/25 lbs. AND that the sooner you juice them, the more juice you get. So, we got cranking away on the apples for that. We cored them, then juiced them with the skins on. We made 5 gallons of cider, and used champagne yeast to ferment it. We’ll let you know in about a month if it works! Matt was really the hero on that one.

I also made 3.5 quarts of Apple Butter. I made that much because that is the size of my slow cooker. HINT: Making Apple Butter on a slow cooker is way more easy than doing it over a fire in a giant cast iron cauldron like some people still do in Appalachia. Incidentally, the apple that dries up on the side of the slow cooker as the water evaporates down makes the most delicious fruit leather.  I would like to make fruit leather on purpose sometimes, as it is AWESOME!

AND we canned up a gallon of apple sauce. Making apple sauce and apple butter makes me feel like the worlds best cook, even though all I did was slice the apples and put them in a pot. You know how sometimes you are canning and nibbling on whatever it is all day and by the end of the day, the idea of eating any of the food you just labored to preserve just turns your stomach? Well, that never happens to me with apple sauce or apple butter.

And we used apples in the peaches we canned to reduce the amount of sugar we had to put in the peach and nectarine jams we were making. Apples are full of pectin so you can use them as a more natural and local way to sugar up your, well, everything.

But that’s another story!

Elderberry Wine Part 2

Elderberry wine at 3 months old This is our Elderberry Wine at 3 months. We started it back in January. Almost ready to bottle. It takes like straight up hooch. Like straight out of some old-timer in West Virginia’s liquor shed. The alcohol content is “Lots.”

It will be perfect for campfires at this point. It might mellow out after a few months (years?) in the bottle and become something that it is respectable to drink indoors.

I’m listening to Lovin’ Spoonful and daydreaming about sitting around in the woods drinking our fab elderberry hooch.

A Beer Engineer

Matt and I went to Boston at Christmastime (to visit with his cute baby nephew, and oh yeah, the rest of his family) and made a stop by the Harpoon Brewery (we didn’t bring the baby nephew). We sampled the free beer like a couple of heroes, and I got excited about trying some of their ideas out homebrew style.

1. Pilgrim Beer (or something) brewed using only stuff that would be available to pilgrims for a reality tv show. They used sage instead of hops. It was sage-tastic.

2. Hard Apple Cider – brewed using beer yeast instead of champagne yeast, giving it a sharper, less sweet crispness.

3. Leviathan IPA – flower-tastic hops party punch/massage in your mouth with super high alcohol content.

Generally when we homebrew, we homebrew for intriguing flavors. So, a mocha porter, or a vanilla-peach, or our fabulous Ginger beer that is so gingery it is basically a nutritional supplement. I want to make a Maple Beer.  I love trying different sorts of beers, but there is a difference between grabbing a six-pack of something weird and brewing up 5 gallons (aka 50+ bottles) of it.  So I will probably never make a Sage Beer, because, I don’t want 5 gallons of sage flavored beer.

But I do want 5 gallons of Leviathan IPA. I actually want a swimming pool full, but 5 gallons is a great start. So, the first stop was the beer store, where we bought 9 oz of hops. Says beer store guy, “I like to imagine you are buying all these hops for one batch of beer” and we say, “Yeah, we are.” Beer store guy, “Awesome.”

Anyway, most beers have 2-4 oz of hops in them, so 9 is like, a lot. Plus we added more from our hops hoard at home. Also, I now know why Leviathan costs $10 for a 4-pack. Lordy! Hops get expensive.  The wort was so full of hops, it looked like a pot of chili. I was trying to capture the glory of it via photograph and video, but it doesn’t do it justice. Says Matt, “You need Feel-O-Vision to fully understand the sludgy texture of this beer.”

We tasted the beer before we put it into ferment, and it is a crazy mix of flowery bittery goodness.  I doubt it will taste like a Levithan IPA, but it will sure taste like something.

Matt did most of the work because I had to run to the laundry mat during the process to wash all the fabric that I dyed this weekend.  Oh what, did I dye fabric this weekend? Blog coming on that soon.

The Biscuit Beer Mystery

Let me know if you  have any answers to this mystery – so, one of the flavor characteristics you see attributed to some kinds of malts is “biscuit.” As in, “If you put this pile of grain in your beer, it will add a biscuity-flavor.” But do they mean biscuits as in British biscuits (which are actually cookies, tricky tricky!) or American biscuits (as in biscuits and gravy…mmmm)? Neither of these things are really all that good with or in beer, in my experience.

The Difference Between an Ale and a Lager

One of the hardest things about brewing your own beer is that so many people who brew beer are jerks and snobs, and also, douches. Though, this is obviously a nice perk if you are a douchey, snobby jerk.

That is not to say that there aren’t many lovely beer swamis out there, and there are certainly endless layers and levels to beer knowledge that are very interesting, but just to say, it’s not that hard to dump some yeast and grains in a bucket. There is some science involved, though biology doesn’t get much more basic than: “Yeast eat sugar and crap out alchohol.” (Complicated?No. AWESOME? Yes.)

I think part of the attraction for insufferable know-it-alls and brewing is the plethora of dumb words that mean the same thing as words you already know, like saying “liquor” instead of “water” and “copper” and instead of “pot” and “mash tun” or “fermenting bin” instead of “bucket.” There are a million fun terms you can use to confuse people with, and when that’s not an option, there is the old world tradition of acting superior for the brew elite to fall back on.

Say you research the most simplest of questions – “What’s the difference between an ale and a lager” on any kind of internet forum. You will find all manner of snotty little answers, often accompanied by, “Ugh, I wish AMERICANS could get this STRAIGHT in their heads, basically my LIFE IS SO HARD and also happiness CANNOT exist because some people like Miller Lite.” (Naturally these comments are often made by Americans).

But the answer is actually very simple, intuitive, and historically interesting, as is the case with many questions about beer. There are different breeds of yeasties, just like there are different types of dogs, for doing different types of stuff.  The main difference between a lager and an ale is that lager are brewed at lower temperatures and use a special yeast that likes colder weather. Because they are cold, the yeasties are sleepy and brewing take longer.  In contrast an ale yeast likes it warmer and brews faster.

So, that is useful to know, that there are different types of yeasties that have evolved to make beer at all different temperatures, because people like beer all year round.  The irony is that lager yeast- the cold kind – tends to make lighter and cleaner beers. The chunky chewy beers I like in winter are generally made with ale yeast which generally like warm weather. Which is a bummer if you don’t heat your house.

One exception to this is a type lager yeast that likes it warm -Fun Fact: this is the kind they use in Anchor Steam. They developed this because Germans moved to California and wanted their cold brewed beer but it was too hot, so they bent the yeasties to their will. Take that, yeast! I have not heard of an ale equivalent – a yeast that brews warm-type beers in sub-artic conditions. This is why I brought out the question in the first place.

I used to be intimidated by beer snobs and figured there was some magical threshold of beer-vana that I wasn’t worthy to approach and so just made fun of myself and my pathetic attempts at beer which ha ha, at least never poisoned me! However, the more I learn the more I have found that often terrible beer brewing snobs are either (A) using fancy words that mean simple things that I actually know about (e.g. buckets) or (B) have no idea what they are talking about.

Buy me a beer sometime and I’ll tell you some funny examples of this phenomena.

Elderberry Wine

For Christmas, from our lovely friend Rory, we got a bucket of elderberry wine base that is supposed to make 3-5 gallons of wine – wahoo! I’m pretty excited about it, it is the project for the day.

We brew beer fairly regularly, but I have never brewed wine. I am trying to learn about it, but it feels so jumbly in my head, like there is not room for information on wine with all this info on beer bubbling around in there, it’s so similar, but so different.  Like crocheting vs. knitting? Or maybe I am just really drunk? No, not actually. So, Matt is in charge of making sure we don’t ruin the wine, which is good, because he’s done it before.

One of the puzzles is where you get 30-40 wine bottles from? Does anyone want to donate wine bottles for the cause? Used beer bottles are easy for us to come by, but we don’t have a plan for finding empty wine bottle supplier, besides “the recycling center” and “asking a  bar.”

Looking on-line, the only reason it says not to bottle your wine in beer bottles is because it’s “not very romantic.” So maybe we could bottle the wine like beer? hmm…

Wrapping the Beer in an Electric Blanket

Cat in a BlanketIt is so cold outside that it is past the level of cold and just dumb. Come on!

One thing that is nice to do on a cold day is to make beer, which Matt and I did this weekend. It involves standing over and stirring bubbly pots in a cheerful warm kitchen for several hours.

However, the next stage involves keeping the yeasties from freezing to death and/or over-heating for a week or more while they sit in a bucket and eat up all the sugars to make alcohol.  While I won’t disclose what temperature we are keeping the house at, I will say it is 35 degrees more than the current temperature outside, and doesn’t that sound luxuriously toasty?

However, the yeasties are fussier than we are; they like it hot! This summer when it was over 100 degrees in the apartment, they were working so fast that we brewed and bottled a beer in 3 days, instead of the normal week, holy cow! You are not supposed to let them get this hot and heavy, but I’m not going to go and buy an AC just for the yeasties.  Conversely, in the cold weather, much like humans, they get very lethargic and don’t want to do their job.

Which is why we’re wrapping the beer in an electric blanket. At first I was going to include a picture here, but while beer is very delicious, it is not photogenic. So instead, here is a cat wrapped in a blanket.

If you are crazy in the two ways we are – 1. wanting to make your own beer and 2. not wanting to heat your house – then here are some handy tips for keeping your yeasties warm and happy, while you sit around and drink beer to keep warm.