on birthdays and making beer

Anne and I took the train up to Santa Barbara for my birthday, and it was awesome. Because I've complained about Amtrak employees who were dicks in the past (K. Williams on the southbound Surfliner to Comicon, I'm looking in your snotty, sarcastic, condescending direction), it's important to me that I compliment everyone we interacted with on this trip, both Northbound and Southbound. The conductors were friendly and helpful, and so were the ticket agents in Santa Barbara. I love the idea of train travel, and I especially love going along the California coast. I always want to ride the train up to PAX, but I never have time … one day though, I'm totally going to do that. I'm not sure what it is with Amtrak, but I always feel like I'm flipping a customer service coin, and I don't know if it's going to land on "friendly" or "asshat". Someone at Amtrak should do something about that, because I'm not the only person who feels this way.

While we were in Santa Barbara, we ate lunch at the Santa Barbara Brewing Company, where we had their IPA. As a fledgling homebrewer, it was probably more exciting to me than it should have been that I could watch their brewmaster tending to his beer, but Anne patiently listened to me while I pointed out every piece of equipment, and explained what it does. When I drank my IPA, I'm pretty sure I could taste Cascade hops, too, which made me stupidly excited because Ryan and I used Cascade hops in our IPA.

A lot* of people have been asking me how the homebrewing is going. The short answer is, pretty good, even though we made some mistakes with our first batch. Once it conditions in bottles, though, I think we're going to have a very drinkable beer.

I'm going to speak in beernerd right now, so if you may want to skip this paragraph if you aren't at least conversant in homebrewing. The longer answer is that we definitely screwed up our California Pale Ale in two pretty big ways: we boiled too long, so I think we boiled off a lot of fermentable sugars, and we racked to secondary about a week too soon. I've taken gravity readings the last two days, and it seems to have settled down right around 1.020. I know that's not where we want it to be, so we're going to let it sit for another week and hope that it drops. Right now, our potential ABV is only 4%, which seems low to me (but the Googles told me that most CPAs sit around 5%, so that's not too bad.) The really important thing, as far as I'm concerned, is that it tastes really good, and even though I don't think it's going to be exactly what we were going for, it's still going to be a tasty beer. It's still a little green, but it isn't bitter at all, it isn't too sweet, and the color and texture are terrific.

Ryan and I had so much fun brewing our CPA, I ordered two all-grain 1-gallon kits from Brooklyn Brew Shop: an IPA and a Porter. I figured that it was just one gallon, so if I completely screwed up the all-grain process, it wasn't that big a deal … it turns out that it was incredibly easy, just as much fun as the first batch, and we used the lessons we learned from the first batch to prevent repeating the same mistakes. We won't bottle that until around August 8 (Anne's birthday, for those of you scoring at home), and I can't wait.

I can tell you, from my personal experience, that making beer is incredibly easy and incredibly fun. They say that if you can make oatmeal, you can make beer, and they're totally right. Oh, and the best part of doing an all-grain beer has been using the spent grains to make doggie biscuits for Seamus and Riley, and two loaves of bread for the rest of us. I made this one last night, and had a slice with breakfast, and I have a loaf of rosemary that's rising in the kitchen right now that will be ready in time for dinner tonight. AWESOME!

The funny thing (to me) about this whole experience is that I was always intimidated by the idea of making bread. But I figured, "Hey, I can make beer, and bread is pretty much the same ingredients assembled in a different way. Why not try it?" There's something tremendously satisfying about combining a bunch of ingredients that don't look or feel anything like the food I turn them into, and then eating (or drinking) it. It feels sort of … magical, I guess.

I AM A FOOD WIZARD! COWER BEFORE MY SILICON SPATULA OF SCRAPING! MUWAHAHAHA!!

Um. Sorry about that.

Yesterday was Ryan's birthday. He turned 22, and a whole bunch of people on Twitter joined me to wish him #HappyBirthdayRyanWheaton. It was pretty amusing to me that I had to write my happy birthday message to him in a way that would make it clear to 1.8 million people that it was, in fact, me writing it, instead of him.

Before I get to work, I have two quick things:

1) Felicia and I are back on Eureka tonight! Come see us on the network-formerly-known as Sci-Fi at 8pm. #TeamParrish

2) DriveThruRPG and Bards & Sages are teaming up for an awesome charity sale called Operation Backpack. Check it out:

August usually means back to school shopping for most Americans. But each year, thousands of children living in homeless shelters and foster care return to school without even the most basic of necessities. Operation Backpack, a program operated by Volunteers of America, helps provided these needed supplies to our country's most vulnerable students and gives them a chance to continue their education.

In an effort to support this wonderful project, Bards and Sages has partnered with other independent authors and publishers to create a special charity ebook bundle. 100% of our profits from this bundle will be donated to Volunteers of America to support Operation Backpack.

This special charity collection includes seventeen independent speculative fiction titles with a retail value of almost $50. A complete list of participating authors can be found on the Bards and Sages website under the Charity tab.

This collection is comprised of two zip files, one containing PDF files and one containing mobi/kindle format files.  Both files contain the same titles, simply offered in different formats.

Oh, did I say two things? I meant three things. 3) In case you missed it, there's a new Humble Indie Bundle.

That's all for now. See you on the Twitters, the Tumblrs, and the Google Plusses.

*Or alot, if you prefer.

61 thoughts on “on birthdays and making beer”

  1. My husband and his brother started brewing their own beer about six months ago. I now know things about brewing I never knew I wanted to know. LOL And routinely get drafted for bottle cleaning duty. My contribution, which I don’t mind, as their porter is fantastic! They’re going to try reproducing a beer from an old recipe of George Washingtons’ next I think. Should be interesting!

  2. Alots make me incredibly happy every time I see them. YAY Hyperbole and a Half.
    Glad to hear that you and Ryan are having fun making beer. You guys seem to have an awesome relationship. :)
    Also, very much looking forward to seeing you and Miss Day on Eureka tonight. Makes Monday feel more worthwhile.

  3. Congrats on the beer Wil! I have a home-brewing kit sitting in my back room just waiting to be used, but so far I haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe I need a Ryan of my own to help me.
    I’m totally with you on the whole Santa Barbara Brewing Company experience. I think I would have nerded out too, especially with IPAs being my favourite style of beer. Keep up the good work!

  4. Terribly excited that you’re repping homebrewing. It’s such a great hobby, and one that is so easy to geek out about.
    Your CPA will likely be a little on the sweet side if the finishing gravity is high, and that’s okay. Our first batch many years ago (“Agent Orange” a witbier) was so incredibly sweet it was like drinking a bottle of malt marmalade. But by God, we drank every bottle and loved that we made it!
    As you’re directing people towards homebrewing, you might want to send them towards the American Homebrewer’s Association and Charlie Papazian (the father of modern homebrewing – @CharliePapazian and author of the Joy of Homebrewing). They have tremendous resources, and I used them for years before choosing to spend some of my homebrewing budget on a membership.
    Regardless, enjoy brewing!

  5. Hooray beer!
    Never mind the mistakes, Wil. Time irons out a lot of mistakes with home-brew, so waiting it out until the gravity stabilizes is time well spent before bottling. At 4%-ish, you can call it a session beer – which means it will be gone before you know it, so you had better start planning your next batch now, sir!
    I have just ordered up the ingredients for a clone of Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale – a hoppy treat if I ever had one!

  6. Hey Wil… glad to hear you’re having such fun with homebrewing! I had a great father-son brewing experience I’d like to share. Back in The Day I brewed a beer I called “Pat’s Porter”, named after my step son. Son of a gun if it didn’t win a first in the US at the AHA competition. I, of course, had to make a celebratory image: http://www.xmn.com/photos/pat-dad-1988.jpg (that’s root beer in his mug, BTW). 23 years later my wonderful kid is all grown up and we went down into the basement and re-created the brew. I hope some that he teaches HIS son brewing skills.
    Bread-from-spent-grains is fabulous. Hearty and with that hint of hops that makes things special. Make a stout someday, and you’ll REALLY have a grand loaf of bread!
    As to you Amtrak trip… a friend of mine was in the same car as you on the way back from San Diego. “Seems like a nice guy.” was his view of you. Did you really hold court? And, yes, there are a handful of real jerk conductors. Most, though, are great. I ride Amtrak for most of my business trips now and wouldn’t trade those pleasant trips in for anything. Groping by the TSA? Tiny seats? Not a problem for me.

  7. I have to say that I’m happy you’ve picked up a hobby I also partake in. Back when you wrote a lot/alot about poker, I felt totally left about, but now I can beergeek with you. I’ve found that most brewers in small breweries love geeking out about brewing, and are fun to chat with. I’ve had the best conversations with brewers while traveling these here united states (and Canadian provinces, and soon, Japanese prefectures). Yay for alcohol – the universal friendmaker!

  8. I know nothing of beer and its making, but I enjoyed this post all the same. It made me smile. You are so right that making something of something that seems completely unrelated is fun!
    Which reminds me…I have a cosplay to work on…alot. ;)
    Later! Happy birthday to all of you!

  9. Charlie's book is INCREDIBLE. I've read it cover to cover twice, and it's my go-to reference whenever I have a question. The homebrewing community is one of the most welcoming, kind and helpful tribes I've ever been part of, so of COURSE I'm joining the AHA!

  10. I love that picture, and congrats on the win!
    The ride back from San Diego was great. My son and I sat with a couple in the 4-seater thing because the conductor was going to make them move, they seemed like nice people, and I like making friends. I wouldn't call it holding court, though :)

  11. And the interesting part is that I actually understood that paragraph. Hmm…
    Happy belated birthday to you, Wil Wheaton. I’m glad it was everything you’d hoped for and more. No matter how old you are. ;-)
    Next year, I promise to be on time with my greeting!

  12. Boiling for too long won’t boil off sugars, but you may have lost some of the aromatic and flavor components of your hop profile. The beer should be fine if you added some finishing hops. Best of luck!

  13. I love love love train travel and would do it more if it weren’t so bloody expensive (and if I could carry-on my cat with me). The time consumption is one of the perks – it forces you to turn off for a little while because you really have no choice.
    But the problem with train travel in this country is that it is underfunded and underutilized. Hopefully more of you with a public persona will sing the praises of the rail, thereby bringing it back in vogue.

  14. You are my only childhood crush that I still think is cool. Congratulations.
    PS: Don’t tell Fred Savage.
    PPS: Fred Savage might be very cool, I just don’t have the evidence to prove it.

  15. OK, I’m now watching Eureka for the first time. Because of you. I started Geocaching. Because of you. I ought to download those pictures of you twleve… but I digress.

  16. When it comes to train travel, chartering a private railcar for a trip from LA to the Northwest is the only way to go. The staff on-board is there at your beck and call. Food and beverages you want when you want. And some cars have bedrooms aboard as well for overnight travel. Makes for one heck of a good time. Let me know and I can hook you up with one or more for a group of any size. We’ve done as few as five people and as many as 125. Just great fun.
    And no Amtrak conductors aboard either.
    http://www.privatecarservice.net

  17. Can’t wait to hear how the beer turns out! Awesome.
    My hubby and I have been wanting to try it.
    PS. Happy late birthday, July 29th is my birthday too, but I just turned 31.
    PPS. Spock didn’t care about my birthday either.

  18. I’m very glad you’ve already learned to “relax, don’t worry, and have a homebrew.”
    If you get into the geeky science of all-grain, ask on twitter or here for some book recommendations and I (among many others, I’m sure) will be happy to supply them.
    AHA membership will also grant you discounted tickets to Great American Beer Festival and access to their member’s only session each fall in Denver. It would be a great father/son trip.

  19. Wil – Next time you make a porter or a stout make your bread and freeze it until the beer is ready to drink. Add pastrami, Sierra Nevada Brewery Mustard, and a good swiss cheese to your dark porter/stout bread, drink with aforementioned Beer. Enjoy, and thank me later.
    PS – Just recently got into Eureka because of you, made it though Season 1 this week, though I have skipped ahead to see the Wheaton episodes. Well done sir, well done.

  20. My husband has been brewing beer for about 1 1/2 years now, and I love using the spent grain to make bread. We don’t have a dog, or we definitely would have tried to make dog biscuits too. Hope your first brew turns out great~

  21. Steph,
    Fred Savage is actually very cool as well. I worked on a show with him a few years ago and he’s good friends with a writer I know. From everything I know, a good guy and still worthy of your childhood crush. :)
    B.

  22. If you ever get the chance to take the train to PAX, I highly recommend it. I’ve taken the Coast Starlight from LA (well, the commuter from outside San Diego to LA first) to Martinez (outside of San Francisco) several times. I’ve taken the train the entire way and I’ve done the train/bus/train (train from San Diego to LA, bus from LA to Bakersfield, train from Bakersfield to Martinez) and I would highly recommend taking the Coast Starlight all the way up. It’s a long long ride but you end up meeting a lot of interesting people.
    My dad, who was terrified of flying, would take the train up to Seattle and he said he had the best time.
    We just won’t discuss the choice of Speed as the in-flight movie when I was on the bus portion of the trip.

  23. In reference to your tweet, if I bring you a monopoly die at Dragon Con- is that ok(I do not understand gaming now)? I will be the old lady wearing the Wesley Crushers t-shirt.

  24. Jonas has it right Wil. I have been working in homebrew shops for 5 years, homebrewing for 17, and working for a professional brewery the last few months. If you want hop aroma you could add some hops in the secondary, but for a first beer I frankly wouldn’t worry. It will be beer and you did just fine I am sure. Charlie’s book was my first and nothing wrong with it. Enjoy!

  25. Nice. Silicon Spatulas of Scraping are only a plus 1. I highly recommend a stone casserole dish of even baking. They are a plus 5 cooking, plus 3 fire-resist (and burn resist) bread-making tool.
    And it IS magic. Well, magic as I understand it. I’ve been a pagan for about 12 years…and there is little in the world that matches the magic of making things with my hands. Creating – whether I am woodworking, cooking or making mead – connects you to the things around you. Hope you continue discovering awesome things to try. :D

  26. I really think “I AM A FOOD WIZARD! COWER BEFORE MY SILICON SPATULA OF SCRAPING! MUWAHAHAHA!!” should in some form or another be put on an apron. Good job again on ‘Eureka’ tonight!

  27. The best trip my husband and I ever had, sans offspring, was the Amtrak ride from Oakland to Del Mar. I had never traveled by train, but my California native spousal unit convinced me it was would be fun. He was right. I lost track of the number of times the scenery changed along the way. Gorgeous.
    I am happy for you and Anne that your latest trip was a good one. Happy birthday to you and Ryan.
    Thank you for sharing.

  28. FWIW, Wil – the folks over at Beer, Beer & More Beer are friendly, helpful, and rather a short drive for you, seeing as how they’re basically at the 215/60 interchange.
    Having a local brewshop is a wonderful thing. The Morebeer.com guys were great when Las Vegas didn’t have a brewshop.
    Signed,
    Been making mead for nearly 10 years now – and you can’t make wine without an appreciation for how to make beer.

  29. Saw you again tonight on Eureka. Your disruptor was quite different from a Klingon disruptor. Hope to see more of you on future episodes.

  30. CP’s book is awesome, but you might want to check out How to Brew by John Palmer as well. HtB taught me a lot of good, solid theory behind every part of the process, and most of the time I like to know the ‘why for’ a little more than the ‘how to’ (ala Alton Brown — hooray for food Nerdism! (although his brewing episode left a lot to be desired, but hey, there’s only so much you can cover in 21 minutes)).
    If you ever decide to get into making mead, The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm is an absolute must. Again, lots of valuable theory to go with the how-to. You already have most of the equipment (it recycles a lot of the gear you already use, namely fermenters), and you can make it “no heat”, so no boiling at all — just use good quality raw honey, and you’ve got the critical ingredient right there. It’s a little more fussy up front, but not by much, and it takes more time on the back end, but it’s a great investment in time that’ll pay dividends later.

  31. I also have HtB on my Kindle. I'm going to get it in paperback, too, so I can make more notes and use it more easily when I'm planning a brew.
    One day in the future, I'm going to make my own mead. I have a friend who keeps bees, and I bet it would be super awesome to use some of his honey.

  32. I clean forgot! As every homebrewer has done thus far, I extend to you the open invitation of brewer hospitality should you find yourself in Austin*. Come and sample my “belated birthday” brew: a cold-brewed-coffee porter, aged with French oak that had been soaked in scotch and whiskey. That one, and many more.
    * (This offer has NOTHING to do with you being a famous personage of fame-y fameness**… it has EVERYTHING to do with you being a decently cool human being, whose fame put you on the radar of a lot of people like me who wouldn’t have otherwise known you were pretty much just ‘one of us’: a down-to-earth guy, a nerdanista, a beer aficionado, a father and husband, and someone it would be a blast to just spend a few hours with and share a few beers and good conversation (had fame and notoriety not made invitations such as mine a nice gesture you’d rarely take folks up on.)
    ** (Ok, maybe a little, but no more than say… 10%.)

  33. Wil,
    I hope you had a great birthday with many more to come. You are now learning the art of beer making. If history is any indicator, this beer will be great.
    FG

  34. Wil, I’ve been interested in beer making for a good long time, but never gotten around to it… and this idea of using the spent grains to make bread may be what pushes me over the edge.
    Of course, I probably have to do things like deliver this novel and move first…
    Fantastic!

  35. “the network-formerly-known as Sci-Fi”
    This made me smile. And wonder again about the *insert rude word here* who decided on that brilliant change and what on Alpha Centauri he (or she) was thinking. I mean, SERIOUSLY.
    Anyway, it makes me happy that you and I agree on this. I know it’s silly, in theory, to care so much about it that I literally cannot bring myself to use that other spelling, but it’s NOT, because it was bad enough with the wrestling and cancelling the GOOD shows and so on, but that was OVER THE DAMN LINE.
    I will stop ranting now. Happy birthday, Ryan, and yay for beer and bread and train travel!
    Also, cooking is awesome. I didn’t get into it till a few years ago myself and I totally have that food wizard moment every time I make something good. (Which, fortunately, happens more often than the other possibility. :P)

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