Current State of Things

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Come in, come in, don’t mind the dust, nobody’s been here to clean this place up in many months. Here, let me move those old blog posts off the couch so you can take a seat. There, that’s better, isn’t it? Now, you’re probably wondering a few things. Where did I go? What have I been up to? Why am I back now? Well, here’s the Current State of Things:

 

The Current State of Me:

I’m getting used to the amount of work and stress being a special education teacher provides. Things are getting better, the workload slightly easier to manage as I become more efficient and effective with my use of time. It’s still difficult and stressful, but feels manageable. I’m finding the balance between work and play, though I may never find a perfect line to walk, things are going fairly well. Tasks don’t feel so insurmountable anymore.

We are going to Dublin, Ireland! My wife and I decided to go to Ireland over February break. We really wanted to leave the country and go somewhere, finally deciding on Ireland somewhat randomly. We are excited to see the sights of Dublin as well as the beautiful land around the city, including some old castles.

My creative writing endeavors have lagged, grown dormant and perhaps lie dead at this point. I continue to generate ideas that I would love to put pen to paper but lack the time and motivation. We will see if returning to blogging will help in that area. I plan to write a post a week, the topic of which will depend on my mood and current motivation at the time of writing. It could be a story, or a post on writing or teaching or home-brewing. We’ll see.

 

The Current State of our Dog, Habenero:

We have a dog! Having a dog is wonderful and I would recommend it to anyone who has the time and love to put into having a pet. It is indescribable, having another living thing depend on you, that provides you with love and affection unconditionally. Whenever I’m having a rough day, the thought of going home to a wiggly butt and sloppy dog kisses cheers me up. It’s impossible to be angry and upset when a creature is insanely happy to see you after a long day. It’s especially welcoming with the insanity that is happening in our country right now.

To be honest, she has had a rough time lately, getting a dog bite on her face and having to go to the Vet for stitches. She currently has to wear a cone and understandably does not enjoy it. She’s getting used to it though and we are thinking about getting pet insurance because we have had to go to the vet every month or so for a variety of reasons and it gets expensive. Something to think about, for sure.

 

The Current State of My Home-brewing Adventures:

Good news here! Though I had fallen out of the habit of homebrewing what with wedding planning, the wedding and then my new job, I have jumped back into it. I have even started Year of the Brew 2: Brew Harder with my friend and fellow homebrewer, Eric. Our first Year of the Brew was in…2015 I believe, and we brewed 12 times in 12 months. To get myself back into it, we’ve rededicated ourselves to do so once again. I have begun All-Grain Brewing as well, which has reinvigorated the hobby for me. It feels good to go All-Grain, even though it is a longer and more involved process. More homebrewing posts should be incoming, should I feel up to it. This month, I brewed an an Amber ale from the “Brew Better Beer” book by Emma Christensen. Though it hasn’t gone perfectly, I feel excited about getting back into the hobby.

 

The Current State of My Ventures in Video Games:

Not sure many care about this but oh well, feel free to skip this section! I’ve gotten back into No Man’s Sky since the new update and it feels good to explore the universe while also building a floating base on a home planet. Recently, though, it’s been crashing for seemingly no reason, hindering my progress and reducing my motivation to play. Thus, I’ve returned to Eurotruck Simulator 2, taking jobs in the UK so that I can practice driving on the wrong side of the road before we head off to Ireland. It’s actually a pretty useful way to practice, albeit on simplified roads. I’ve also begun playing Hitman: Blood Money which many people say is one of the best Hitman games out there. It is highly enjoyable, despite dated graphics, the game is incredibly fun to explore and plan out assassinations in. I may post about my exploits if they seem entertaining enough.

 

The Current State of…everything else:

It looks bad, doesn’t it? It’s the worst we feared and there seems to be little reason to see things changing for the better anytime soon. The environment is going to suffer, as will millions of Americans and others of the world. These are dark times. I’m not going to get into it in-depth at the moment, you know what’s going on. A war against facts, a war against certain people, be they women, have disabilities or a certain skin color, a war against what it means to be American..The list goes on. I feel like Frodo, telling Gandalf “I wish Trump had never become president. I wish none of this had happened.” Of course, Gandalf would say “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world besides the will of evil.” And it’s true. Just look at the amount of people in the streets, standing up for each other, coming together. Look at the lawyers helping for free at the airports, look at Airbnb, putting up people for free. We must continue to be kind, to be welcoming, and to be resistant to injustice. Many Trumpeters say we should “just accept it”, which is ridiculous. Trump is the president but that doesn’t mean we simply give up and let him do whatever he wants, not when he’s stomping on the constitution, taking away rights and acting like a tyrant. The history of America is about people resisting tyranny and injustice, over and over and over again. I don’t know the answer, but I do know what every single person can do, even if they don’t want to protest, or donate or whatever. You can be kind to others. It’s as simple as that. Be kind. I don’t know what else to say or do, but don’t feel helpless. Show kindness, help others. Unless they’re Nazis, then feel free to punch them in the face.

 

 

Home Brewed Wisdom: Your First Brew

Experiences Brewing Beer

(confused about why I’m writing about beer? Try here first)

Your First Brew

There’s not much I can tell you about your first brew. I went over the basic method here but I don’t want to delve too much into the nitty-gritty and overwhelm you with details. You have to just go through it on your own to see and feel what it’s like.

(Note: this is going to be for extract brewing, which I suggest any starting home brewer begins with, as it’s much more simple and requires much less of an investment of both money and time)

If you don’t have equipment and aren’t sure what to get, here’s going to be my advice for lots of things: Find a Local Homebrew Store (LHBS) and speak to the staff there. They will be knowledgeable and helpful. They will point out useful beginners kits and equipment you need. They are great. It’s likely they are home brewers themselves and always seem interested to help out newbies. Honestly, when you have any questions in regards to homebrewing, asking the staff at a LHBS is always a good option. They are a great resource.

If you don’t have a LHBS close by, you can look online for homebrewing kits. northernbrewer.com isn’t bad. Check out the reviews for various kits and pick one. Try to figure out what you might be looking for. A glass car-boy is old school and looks great, but can be difficult to clean with its narrow opening, meanwhile a plastic bucket is practical and cheap, but has its own issues. Really, any starting kit will work. If you want to put together your own kit, check out the basic brewing post I mentioned above. It has resources at the bottom that will tell you exactly what you need.

Now you have equipment. What’s next? Ingredients and a recipe. Since this is your first brew, I suggest purchasing a recipe kit, which includes all the ingredients you need as well as step-by-step instructions. This takes much of the guesswork and thinking out of it which means you can focus on the process and familiarize yourself with it. Your LHBS will likely have recipe kits. My LHBS, Homebrew Emporium, has kits and its own recipes, all of which are solid from my experience. I have heard northernbrewers recipe kits are decent as well.

Once you have your equipment, recipe and ingredients, you are good to go! Make sure you have a good 4-5 hour block of free time and brew! It shouldn’t take that long every time but it’s always good to plan for it, as cleaning itself can take awhile. Follow the instructions on the recipe. Your beginner’s brewing kit may have instructions as well but ignore those and simply follow the recipe. It will do you fine.

When I made my first brew, I tried to follow both the kit’s instructions and the recipe, which confused me to no end. Ultimately, I ended up with a lackluster beer and unsure of just what went wrong. Follow the recipe.

You will begin with cleaning and sanitizing every piece of equipment that will touch the Wort after the boil. Then you will steep specialty grain in a pot of water for 15-20 minutes or so, depending on the recipe. You will bring the pot to a boil, then add the malt extract and bittering hops. Throughout the 60 minute boil, you will add more hops and any special ingredients. After the boil, you’ll cool off the wort in an ice bath of some sort. I used to just use cold water, ice and ice packs in my sink. Once the Wort has cooled down, enough so the bottom of the pot is cool to the touch, you will transfer it to the fermenter, and cap it with an airlock after pitching the yeast. Stick it somewhere dark and let it sit for two weeks. Then you bottle. Then you wait two more weeks and drink. (Times may change depending on style of beer)

Congratulations, you’re a home brewer! In posts to come, I’ll talk about what comes next after your first brew, go into depth into the various stages of the process and throw up a glossary of the various terms that are always thrown around in home brewing.

Thanks for reading, now go enjoy a beer.

Home Brewed Wisdom: The Basics

…experiences brewing beer…

(confused? Try here first)

A Basic Overview

Let’s go over what home brewing is. Home brewing is brewing beer at home. Simple? Sure.

Beer is a handful of ingredients boiled together, which yeast is pitched into which then ferments. This fermentation results in alcohol and CO2 which is why beer is carbonated and gets you drunk. You need a variety of equipment to perform this as well as ingredients to actually make the beer. I’ll briefly go over everything in this post but expect more detailed posts into each topic to come later.

INGREDIENTS

  1. Malted barley grain which is grain that has been “malted”, which I won’t go into but essentially converts the starch in the grain into simpler sugars that will be consumed by yeast later. The majority of ‘beer’ is this grain, first mashed to release more sugars, then boiled. Different grains produce different body, colors and tastes of beer.
  2. Hops are flowers of a hop plant that are put into the beer at various times throughout the brewing phases to give aroma, flavor, and bitterness to the beer. You generally add hops when you boil the malted grains, early in the boil to add bitterness, closer to the end of the boil to add flavor and aroma. There are many different hops, all with different characteristics.
  3. Water is essential as beer is mostly water. Using tap water is generally fine for most home brewing though there are ways to change it if need be.
  4. Yeast is also important. Can’t make beer without yeast. The yeast consume the sugars and release CO2 and alcohol into the wort, which is how the wort becomes beer. Different yeasts produce different flavors and characteristics in the beer. There are many strains of yeast out there, for many different styles of beer.
  5. Other ingredients can be added for different effects for different styles of beer. Spices like ginger and cinnamon for a Spiced Winter Ale, Orange Peel for an Orange Wheat, or even just something like Irish Moss to help clarify the beer so it’s not so hazy when you look at it through a glass. You don’t need any other ingredients than the first four, however, and many fantastic beers are made with just those.

 

How do you get malted grain? Well, there’s two ways you can go about it (three, if you malt your own grain, but that’s getting a bit too involved for our purposes). First, grain at the home brew store is already malted. Second, the home brew store also contains Malt Extract in Liquid and Dry form. This is malted grain that has already been Mashed, which saves a step in the brewing process and is the biggest distinction between two major home brewing methods: All-Grain or Extract.

All-Grain simply means you buy multiple pounds of grain and Mash it at home which requires more equipment and effort as you have to keep the grain in water at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time to get the grain to release the sugars. All-Grain is more intensive and more complicated. It also gives you more control over fine details in the beer.

Extract means you purchase already Mashed Malt, which saves time and effort. Back in the day, extract beers were simpler and blander than All-grain but these days you can easily steep a pound or two of specialty grains, use malt extract and get a beer that rivals an all-grain beer.

EQUIPMENT

Equipment needs change depending on whether you’re brewing all-grain or extract.

Extract:

  • 3-5 gallon brew pot (for boiling)
  • Fermenter (holds beer after boiling)
  • Measuring cups
  • Something to stir with
  • Bottling Bucket
  • Bottles
  • Bottle capper
  • Bottle caps
  • Bottle brush
  • Siphon(for transferring beer from fermenter to bottling bucket)
  • Racking Cane(used with siphon to take liquid and leave behind sediment)
  • Thermometer
  • Optional: Hydrometer (for taking Original/Final Gravity), Wine thief (helps with taking Gravity readings from narrow-necked car boys)

All-Grain:

  • Bigger brew pot (6 gallons or more)
  • All of the above
  • Mash Tun (holds grain and water for Mashing process, my friend uses a 10-gallon igloo cooler)
  • Lauter tun (can be the Mash tun with a false bottom, holds grain while you Sparge( Sparging is pouring hot water over the grain after Mashing…I’ll get into it later))

 

PROCESS

  1. Clean/sanitize everything (Infection is #1 cause of bad funky beer)
  2. If All-Grain: Mash/sparge grain. This gets you your wort.
  3. If Extract: Steep specialty grain at 155 for 15 minutes before removing.
  4. Now you have Wort. Bring it to a boil.
  5. If Extract, take off boil, stir in your malt extract, bring back to boil.
  6. This is the start of your 60 minute boil. Throughout the 60 minutes, you put in hops, early for bittering, towards the end for flavor/aroma.
  7. After 60 minutes, you end the boil and now you need to cool it down. Beginners use an ice bath in the sink/bathtub, others use a Wort Chiller, still others use both! An ice bath works fine though.
  8. Once wort cools down, you transfer it to the fermenter. If you did a partial boil of 3 or so gallons, you would now add room temp. water to increase the volume to 5 gallons. Once you have 5 gallons, now is when you would take an Original Gravity reading.
  9. You pitch the yeast! Hoorah! Depending on the yeast, you can just pour it in.
  10. Put the cap on the fermenter, fasten an airlock or blowoff system to it, and put it in the place where it’s going to sit for awhile, hopefully at a temperature that is good for the yeast.
  11. After a few days, the airlock/siphon should show signs of activity, CO2 bubbling up. Also, a strange foamy head will form at the top of the liquid in the fermenter. This is good.
  12. After a couple weeks or so, the fermentation should be complete and the beer ready to be bottled. This is when you would take a Final Gravity which would tell you if the yeast finished consuming all the available sugars in the wort.
  13. Then, you bottle. This generally consists of boiling some priming sugar, siphoning to a bottling bucket, then filling bottles, then capping them. The priming sugar gives the yeast a bit more work to do so they produce CO2 which carbonates the beer. In a couple more weeks, WA-LAH! Beer!
  14. Drink!

 

I know this is the simplest overview of what can be an incredibly complex process. I promise to go more in-depth in future posts but I wanted to start with the basics. Here’s a simple overview of what it takes and what the process is.

Resources for more information:

Home brewing Ingredients

Home brewing Equipment: How To Brew or Homebrew Manual. Also for All-Grain