Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First beer of the fall...

Even though the name of this blog was originally "Piney Grove Homebrew", I've strayed farther afield than just brewing, spending just as much time talking about food, music, and "etcetera".

Well, starting today, I'm getting a little closer to the original roots of the blog. The weather's cooling off (brewing in hot humid North Carolina summers is not anyone's idea of fun), and when it's cool, it's start to thinking about not just drinking beer, but making it.

For the first beer of the fall, I want to take another shot at a beer I made last year, "Maura's Bridal Ale". When I made this last year, I thought it tasted great. It was smooth, with a nice hoppy character. However, it was also way overcarbonated, to the point where every beer was mostly foam it seemed like.
So even though it tasted good, there was a lot of room for improvement.

The recipe grain bill that I started with is as follows:
Maura's Bride Ale (from The Homebrewer's Recipe Guide...)
6 2/3 lbs light malt extract
1 lb crysal malt
1/2 lb flaked barley
1 lb honey
2 oz Willamette hops (bittering)
1 oz Liberty hops (finishing)
1 oz Cascade hops (finishing)
1 oz Cascade hops (dry hop)
1 tsp Irish Moss
1 pkg irish ale yeast (used a smack-pack)
1 1/2 c. honey (priming)

As in life however, nothing went totally according to plan. I didn't have the exact hops I was supposed to, so I substituted like so:
Palisade for the Willamette (using this cool "hop plug"), and Centennial for the Cascade.

And, while I was filling my grain bag with my crystal malt, I ended up accidentally dumping half of it in the sink (d'oh!). I salvaged what I could, but I was still short. I ended subsitituting some 60L caramel malt I had, so I expect that the beer will be a little darker than usual, but hey, that's life.

The actual brewing process went smoothly, with no real hiccups. While I was standing around waiting for the malt and flaked barley to "steep", I decided to take a shot at designing some beer labels. I think any amatuer brewer dreams of selling their beer in the store or in a bar, and I'm no different. Part of that dream is designing your labels (since your beer bottles have to have a label). I'd been thinking awhile about how I wanted my labels to look, and I'd settled on kind of a "paper-crafty" kind of look. I wanted it to look folk-arty, and I wanted it to be neat.
So, I raided the kids' construction paper drawer and went to work. I came up with two designs,
basically a "night" and "day" version of the same view.

When I first started brewing, I lived in Holly Springs, on a road called "Piney Grove-Wilbon Rd" (hence the "Piney Grove Homebrew/Kitchen" moniker). We had just under 8 acres, and I wanted the labels to reflect that in some fashion, and the "view" of the labels is generically the view from my front porch at that house.

I think the labels turned out ok. I need to come up with some little construction paper animals (like cows and pigs and horses) and maybe use different animals for different beers (like cows for a milk stout maybe, or brown cows for a chocolate stout, etc). It's definitely stretching my artistic talent to consider little animals right now, but maybe I can figure out something.
When I first scanned the art, the contrast was not so hot, and the labels didn't "pop". I used iPhoto's "enhance" feature on a whim, and sure enough, they were enhanced.

So here's night:

And here's day:

For both labels, I like how the construction paper gives texture to the picture, and I think it just looks neat.
I think the night turned out better for the first pass, since the contrast looks a little better, but I still like the day. The iPhoto enhance really made a difference on the day label.
Both pics have top and bottom borders so that, after I find a good stencil, I can put text on the borders (like "Piney Grove Brewery" on the top and the beer type on the bottom).

To wrap up, here are some shots of the brewing:

My first hop plug. It's definitely not pretty.

The Piney Grove Homebrewery in all its garage-bound glory:

The brew kettle (above)
My grains and hops (plus the recipe) on the trunk of my car

My malt extracts sitting in pot of warm water.

Spent grains:

The boil in action:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Big Boss Brewery tour...

This Saturday, I went on a tour of the Big Boss Brewery in Raleigh.

My company had put together a "company outing" to the brewery, and a friend and I took advantage of the opportunity. It wasn't like a special exclusive company thing, since the Big Boss tour is open to the public, but it was a good opportunity to meet a lot of people at my company that I'd never met before, and the organizer did a great job of making sure people met each other (and free beer is hard to pass up at any time).

Big Boss is different from most of our local breweries, since their regular line up of bottled beers does not include a pale ale or an IPA, rather going with varieties that are a little off the beaten path. So instead of the "normal" beers, Big Boss sells a belgian blond (the "Hell's Belle"), a kolsch (the "Angry Angel"), and a brown ale (the "Bad Penny").
The tour included two free beers, and I went for the Hell's Belle both times (I'll admit, the 7% alcohol attracted me, but the taste won me over). It's a good beer, with an interesting flavor profile that's hard to describe (I'd say it's smooth, with an almost raisiny undertone).

Once we'd all had a beer, the tour started, with the usual "here's where the mash happens", "here's fermentation", etc. It was a good tour (even though if you've been on one brewery tour, you've been on them all), and the staff was friendly and eager to answer questions. One thing I thought was interesting was that all the beer names come from WWII nose art. There really is a bomber named "Hell's Belle", another named "Angry Angel", etc. I think the brewery is missing a beat, though, since there's no information in any of the marketing material about that tie-in.

After the tour ended, everybody gathered for another beer, and the tour kind of started to break up. Fortunately, the brewery has a "tasting room" (ie, a bar) upstairs, and that was pretty cool. I can't say I've been to a lot of bars lately, but I can say I haven't been in a lot of bars that look like someone's basement. The folks at Big Boss have definitely crafted a neat bar, with the space broken into small rooms, with couches, ping pong tables, etc. It was nice, and evoked more of a "frat party" atmosphere than a bar. Maybe that's the way bars are now. Having kids has a way of bringing "going to bars" to a screeching halt.

When I was in the bar, I had their rendition of a pale ale, and it was pretty good, with a nice balance of malt and hops. I like a lot of hops, and I can't say that it was "super hoppy", but it was tasty.

After my pale ale, I decided to call it a day, since I had other stuff planned for the day, and any more beer would've left me pretty useless (although I guess some folks would say I don't need beer for that!), and I ended up having to take a nap on the couch afterwards anyway.

All in all, a good time. I'll go ahead and post my blurry pictures below (I don't know how people take good pictures with an iPhone):

Obviously, with a line this long, it's a popular tour.

My shaky-cam in action. This was the beer line, where we got our free beers (and when I took this, I'd no alcohol at all)

The introduction by (I believe) one of the brewers, and the sales director. (But I could be wrong).

The mash stop of the tour.

A big crowd...

I got bored during the mash stop of the tour and took these two pics of the brewery. It's a big space, larger than the Carolina Brewing Company (interestingly, a friend told me that their tour is all you can drink. I think I know my brewery tour stop....).

Fermentation room. It's not obvious, but there are what I think are cooling jackets on the fermentation vessels to keep them cool, and the room was pretty chilly.

A crappy pic of my Hell's Belle.

And that's pretty much all I've got on Big Boss. It's a good brewery that makes great beer. The people I talked to from the brewery all seemed really nice, and I'd definitely like to spend some time in the tasting room. If you're in the Raleigh area looking for something to do, you could do alot worse than to take their tour.

Also, if you're looking for a good blog to read, check out this. My new friend Ross (from whom I almost bought a pretty nice Triumph motorcycle) just bought a Honda Ruckus scooter, and he's started a blog about it. So check it out, and give him some hits.

And go Rays.