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. I started brewing about eight months ago using Brooklyn Brew Shop’s 1-gallon kits, so I’ve been loving the blow-by-blow as you and Ryan live through it. Of the many things I’ve learned since then, the most important is definitely this: short of getting lazy about cleaning & sanitizing (which you two clearly didn’t), it’s very hard to truly screw up a batch of beer. No matter what I think has gone wrong, none of the beers I’ve done so far has been less than drinkable, most have been fantastic.
    That said, damned if I can tell Cascade from Simcoe from Hallertau, so you clearly are some sort of wizard…

  2. Damn you Wheaton (Well, no, not really)
    It’s your fault that I have a couple of buckets and weird tubing laying around everywhere! No grain yet though. All that because you made it sound cool.
    And yet I don’t regret it… yet. Time will tell.
    G!

  3. As mentioned, boiling too long won’t decrease the sugar content of your beer. In fact, it will increase it. It can also increase kettle carmelization, which is why certain beers like scotch ales can have boil times of 2 or 3 hours.
    Racking to secondary early or late also shouldn’t be much of a problem. If early, you should still have enough yeast to continue to ferment, though you might not have as many solids settled out of the beer so you might be a bit cloudier. Too long only becomes an issue if it is months too long and you suffer from off flavors due to the yeast breaking down.
    I’d recommend http://homebrew.stackexchange.com/ as a great place to learn and ask questions about brewing.

  4. I didn’t know you could use the spent grains to make bread. That’s awesome! It’s been a couple of years since hubby and I brewed our last batch, but we’ve been talking about starting up again. I’ll have to try that rosemary bread when we do–I love rosemary bread. Did yours turn out as pretty as the picture? Thanks for the links!

  5. It's the best loaf of bread I've ever baked. I was astonished by how easy it was to make, and how delicious it was to eat.

  6. Next time you’re in Santa Barbara, check out The Brewhouse if you want some local beer & good food (and it’s 2 blocks from the Amtrak station). Or, if you just want beer, get the sampler from Telegraph (Will Amtrak allow you to take a growler on your return trip? Ha). And if you’re feeling dangerous and want to mix your alcohols, there is an Urban Wine Trail over in the funk zone downtown.
    But really, plenty of places to get your beer nerd on. :)

  7. I'm legally prohibited from selling my beer, but I think I'm allowed to give it away to anyone who is of legal drinking age.

  8. Oh, Wil, don’t be silly! You have discovered that you love doing this. You have a well-earned reputation as a lover of beer. You have a host of fans that you KNOW would fall over themselves to buy beer made by you. Just start looking for a microbrewery you can partner up with now. You live in California; you should have a plethora to choose from and I’m sure some of them are owned by proper geeks who would do you proud. I know you’re busy, but this is kind of too good to pass up, you know? Even if you only put out a small batch once or twice a year, it’d be worth it…especially for the nice, geeky microbrewery you connect with. (Yes, I’m totally playing on your do-gooder-ness! You could even do it FOR CHARITY OMGELEVENTYONE!!!)
    *seed duly planted, brushes her hands off and walks away*

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