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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Alcoholics Go To Meetings

It happens to everyone- you find something you're passionate about, and it seeps into all areas of your life. It's like being in new relationship. If you're not doing it (giggety-gigetty), you're thinking about it or talking about it. The behavior is normal and everyone expects it, unless that passion is beer. When you love beer, sometimes people think you need help. To a complete stranger, I can see how it may look that way.

-My phone, Facebook, and Instagram accounts are filled with pictures of beer glasses, bottles, and breweries (oh my!).
-Beer bottles with cool labels and German steins are part of our home decor.
-We have tons of merchandise collected from the various breweries we've visited.
-I have an entire shelf (and growing) of beer/homebrew related books & magazines, plus an entire shelving unit in the garage dedicated to my brewing equipment, cases of homebrew, and "special" bottles of beer that I'm not ready to open yet. (I would include a picture, but at the moment, it's all packed up. More on that later).
-During a recent staff meeting, employees were asked to bring a book that inspired them. I brought a book about, you guessed it, beer!

Yes, I drink a lot, but I rarely get drunk. It's part of my research. How can I know what I want to brew or how a style is supposed to taste & look unless I try it myself? Still, I can't tell you how many times I've uttered the phrase "I swear I'm not an alcoholic" because someone is looking at me funny while I'm describing our latest brewery visit.
What's my point in all this? You can all stop worrying! A person can love beer and not need to attend a meeting. Besides, AA is for quitters, and I don't intend on giving up on brewing any time soon.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Gift That Keeps on Giving or The Complications of Brewing Alone

If you can't already tell by the nature of this blog, I'm not the typical wife. I'm a pretty low maintenance person in general, so I don't need big celebrations for birthdays and anniversaries. My idea of a good time is stuffing my face with sushi, watching a movie, and hitting up our favorite brewery. Flowers are optional, and the hubby knows better than to buy me any jewelry. Despite all of this, he still manages to spoil me rotten every occasion. Last year, I finally had a chance to do the spoiling . . .
Hubs had to go on a business trip for several months, one of which contained our anniversary. So what's a girl to do when her other half isn't around to celebrate a special occasion? Make beer, of course! I consulted The Brewmaster's Bible and found a recipe for a Belgian Tripel, one of his favorite beer styles. While checking out at the homebrew supply, the conversation with the guy behind the counter went something like this:
Guy: "So what are you making?"
Me: "A Belgian Tripel"
Guy: "That's a pretty big beer!"
Me: "Well, it's for a special occasion. I'm brewing it to surprise my husband for our anniversary."
Guy: "Oh, that's so cool!"
The look on his face when he realized that I was the one doing the brewing, and wasn't just there to pick up supplies for my husband: priceless! He wasn't lying though, this beer was a tall order. The higher alcohol content of the beer meant it was going to need longer to ferment and the style calls for higher carbonation levels, making it prone to bottle bombs during conditioning. Add in the fact that this was the very first beer that I would be brewing completely on my own and wasn't using a pre-assembled kit, and it's safe to say I was freaking out about it just a little. To calm my anxiety, I did what I do best and researched my little heart out. 
Anniversary/brew day came, and everything went pretty well. I had to make a couple adjustments to account for the fact that I didn't have my muscle around to do the lifting (5 gallons of beer is really heavy!), but I'm happy to report that I didn't drop or break anything, including my toes. Four weeks later, and it was time to bottle. This did not go as smoothly. Three quarters of the way into siphoning out the beer from the carboy, my auto-siphon stopped auto-siphoning. They're great time savers and I highly recommend them, but the plastic piece that makes it "auto" is extremely fickle. Apparently, I had knocked it loose at some point during the process. I still had over a gallon of beer left in the carboy, and I wasn't about to waste it (can you say alcohol abuse?). So after a few choice words, I started pumping the siphon by hand. That didn't work very well either. Tired of feeling like I was in an episode of Little House On the Prairie, I said screw it and stopped pumping. I picked up the carboy and *very carefully* poured the rest of the beer into the bucket. Anybody who brews knows this is a HUGE no-no, but it was over a gallon of beer! I had already poured enough priming sugar solution into the bottom of the bucket for 5 gallons, so leaving out that much beer was guaranteed to produce a crapload of bottle bombs. I figured a little bit of extra sediment at the bottom of the bottles was a good trade-off. After finally getting it all bottled, I waited and waited. Since I decided that I wasn't going to open a bottle until our late anniversary celebration, all I could do was hope that I didn't screw everything up. 
Many weeks later, the big day had arrived! We said a little prayer to the homebrew gods, and cracked open a bottle of 8 Year Itch (can you guess which anniversary we were celebrating?). Guys, it was awesome! The color was great, carbonation was perfect, and it went down dangerously smooth for an 8% ABV beer. It was officially the best anniversary present that my husband had ever received, according to him, and made me "the cool wife" to all his buddies. I still get compliments on it from friends that have tried it. The success of this beer means I definitely have to make it again, so a new tradition has been born. This fall, look out for a report on 9 Year Itch.
Ok, I promise I'm done typing now. Cheers, guys, thanks for hanging out!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How Barnes & Noble Started My Homebrewing Obsession

Yeah, you read the title right. I know, B&N isn't exactly known for their expertise in homebrewing. In fact, I find their section on beer to be extremely lacking. They do, however, sell really good quality homebrewing kits from Craft A Brew. Also, since I currently work at B&N, I was able to buy it at a really good price using my employee discount (This is probably a good time to mention that I am NOT being paid by either of these companies to plug the product, I was just that happy with it).
My husband had been toying with the idea of homebrewing for a while, so 2 Christmases ago, I surprised him with the Hefeweizen kit. We brewed the first batch together, mostly because the hubby doesn't like to read directions, and waited. I was pretty skeptical about the outcome because of a few horror stories I heard from friends. To my surprise, the hef was very tasty (similar to a Widmer). Being the science nerd that I am, I wanted to brew another batch from a recipe rather than a kit, just to make sure it was the process that made good beer, and not just the kit. We went to a local homebrew shop, where they gave us a recipe for a Smoked Porter. We brewed it together, and waited. Another success! By the time that batch was gone, we had official caught the brewing bug, and the one gallon kit just wasn't cutting it for us anymore. We made trip #2 to the homebrew shop, and walked out with a complete 5 gallon brewing kit and a recipe kit for a Stout (we like our dark beers). This is when the fun really began . . .
Let's just say that the margin of error grows with the batch size. This beer wasn't as successful this time around. Again, my inner nerd kicked in, and I went into research mode to figure out what went wrong. I bought a few books, scoured the internet, and a monster was born! The more I read, the more I fell in love. The science behind it intrigues me, and the freedom it lends satisfies the creative itch that I couldn't scratch with anything else. I can do anything I want in homebrewing, and no one can say it's wrong. Don't even get me started on how I feel when people taste my beer and like it! That's a post for another day.
Well, I think that's enough for one night. Thanks for reading . . .