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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Moving Sucks

 My husband and I have moved around a few times during the 8.5 years we've been married (one of his occupational hazards), and it always sucks. The packing, the cleaning, the hours of driving, searching for a new place- it can get old quick. This time, there's an added (but welcome) complication, and it's name is homebrewing. Why does it make things complicated? I'm glad you asked . . .

Complication #1: It makes me feel like a hoarder.
One of the things I'm usually pretty good about is not accumulating too much stuff, because I know it'll all have to be packed up eventually. I also try to purge the house of unneeded items at least once per year. Those things kinda went out the window when I started brewing, though. It used to be that all my equipment fit nicely in the little cardboard box the kit came in. Then came the upgrade: a huge 6.5 gallon glass carboy, bottling bucket, several cases of empty glass bottles, various tubes, siphons, funnels, bottling tools, you get the point. I ended up commandeering one of my husband's shelving units in the garage, then eventually traded that one out for something bigger when the cases of finished product and our growing stash of cellared beer didn't fit on the small shelves anymore. When it came time to start purging, I knew my brewing space was no exception. Remember those cases of empty bottles? The logical part of my brain said, "Why are you going to lug all those empty bottles across the country? It's stupid, just get rid of them." The brewing side of my brain said, "It took you weeks of saving and hand washing bottles to build up this collection! Don't throw them, you'll just have to start over again. You'll use them eventually, anyway." After the silent panic attack, the logical side won, and into the recycle bin they all went. I'm not gonna lie, it hurt a little to let them go. And while I'm pretty sure I'm not an alcoholic, I sure as hell looked like one after throwing out about 48 bottles at once. That eliminated some of the load, but I still have about 2 cases of home brew (if you want to take some off my hands, let me know) and a case of beer from assorted breweries that do not distribute where we're going (you can't have any of those, sorry) in addition to all of my equipment. I wasn't willing to purge anything else. It takes baby steps, people.

Complication #2: Moving awakens my OCD tendencies
I've heard enough horror stories about moves gone wrong that it makes me picky about the things that I let the moving crews touch. You never know what condition your stuff will be in when it gets to the other side, or if it will even make it there at all, so anything that I can't bear to lose gets packed neatly into plastic bins and comes with us instead. It should come as no surprise that when we got word of our upcoming move, my first thought was, "There's no way I'm letting the movers touch my brewing equipment!" Not only is all that shit expensive to replace if it gets broken or lost, I was a little skeeved out by the thought of my clean and sanitized stuff being touched by multiple hands and collecting who knows what kind of microbes in that dirty moving truck. Nope, I was going to take control. If I packed all the stuff very carefully in a clean bin and brought it with us, the only person I could blame if something went wrong was myself. I bought the biggest bin I could find at the store, but thanks to the bulky shapes of the carboys and bucket, it didn't all fit. So I ended up with a big bin, a smaller bin, and a few cardboard boxes. Add this to the 2 or 3 bins of other stuff from the house that I don't trust anyone else to touch,  and it's pretty safe to say our vehicles are going to be packed tight! So much for not accumulating too much stuff.

 Complication #3: I CAN'T BREW!!!
This might be the worst one of all. It's like an itch I can't scratch. I have a growing list of styles and recipes that I want to brew and can't, because everything is packed away. Sure, I could unpack everything if I really wanted to, but the logical side of my brain is in control right now, and it says no. On top of that, operations will probably still be on hold for a few months after we get to our destination, since we will be living out of an RV until we find a house. I'm trying really hard to stay strong. Hopefully, I'll be back up and running by our wedding anniversary, so I can work on  9 Year Itch! For now, I'm living vicariously through others via Instagram. Leave me your username or follow @drunkenborrachobrewing if you want to support my efforts  ;-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

That Time I Tried To Make A Sour

Tried is the key word in that title. What I actually made was  . . . something weird. Settle in, because this story is gonna take a little while.
Let me start by saying that I LOVE sour beers! I've been a fan since I had my first one at Ale Industries’ place, The Pig & The Pickle (which is now closed, unfortunately). I wish I could remember what it was called, but this was 3 years ago, when I was still a young grasshopper in the world of craft beer. For those of you who are not familiar with the style, a sour beer  is created by using wild yeast strains during fermentation or by introducing bacteria to the brew liquid. It sounds bad, but the results can be very tasty if it goes right. The majority of them are very tart, which is why they appeal to me. I grew up in the age of Warhead candies, and ate those suckers til I had cuts in my tongue. That being said, it was definitely a style I wanted to take a stab at, but I felt very intimidated by the whole thing. Brewing in itself can be a gamble, but sours are in high stakes territory. They can take months, or even years, to develop the correct flavors and you really have to be on top of your sanitation game to prevent infections in future non-sour batches.  I did what I do best and started my research to decide how to approach the project. Luckily, Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine had just released an issue dedicated to sours. One of the articles mentioned a method called kettle souring, which can produce results in weeks rather months. It involved using plain yogurt to sour the beer, since it contains lactobacillus, a common bacteria used in sours (link here if you're curious). It sounded simple enough, so I got more details from this post on the Not So Profesional Beer Blog. I knew I wanted to do a small batch, just in case I ended up having to dump it. My regular homebrew store had some 1 gallon kits on super clearance, so I picked out a brown ale, got some extra supplies to replace the ones I was about to infect (plastic really likes bacteria), and picked out a yeast blend that contained even more lactobacillus.
One of the first steps in this yogurt method was to grow a culture. As per the instructions, I mixed a little dry malt extract with water and poured in the clear liquid from the top of the yogurt container. I had to find a way to keep this mixture warm and cozy for several hours so the culture could grow. After ruling out a few different methods, I settled on using my wax warmer as a hot plate (they're not just for keeping your house smelling good anymore, folks!). This mixture went into the wort, which had to sit for a few days at around 100 degrees. I have a gas stove, and didn't feel comfortable leaving it on the burner or in the oven, so in the slow cooker it went. After about 3 days, it started smelling a little sour (in a good way, not the "how old is this milk?" way). The taste wasn't quite there, but I figured that would come with time. I finished off the brewing process, set it in the garage and tried to forget about it. After an agonizing 3 months of waiting and peeking and taking gravity readings, I bottled it and let it condition for about another month.
Finally, tasting day had arrived. It was pretty bad, guys! The carbonation level was like pouring a beer over an Alka-Seltzer tablet, and the taste was odd, to say the least. In my husband's words, it tasted like "a sour Miller Lite." To me, it tasted like a cheap beer with a ton of salt in it. I'm not exactly sure where I went wrong, though I can think of a few things that could've contributed.
  • Not being patient enough
  • Using ingredients from a kit on clearance, probably not the best quality.
  • Not being patient enough
  • I had to move the carboy at one point and may have disturbed the pellicle (a layer that forms over the top, protects the wort from oxygen)
  • Not being patient enough
  • I dropped a straw in the carboy while trying to get a sample for measurements and couldn't get it back out (don't ask)
  • Not being patient enough
  • Could've used more yogurt or let the culture grow a little longer

This was a huge learning experience for me, and when the sting of making my first crappy beer wears off, I will definitely attempt a sour again. For now, I have a few bottles left of this . . .thing in the garage. I crack one open every once in a while to see if it improves or changes over time. So far, it doesn't look very promising.
If there are any other brewers reading this, I'd love to hear your suggestions, tips, dos and don'ts, stories regarding sours. Until next time, friends.