Category Archives: Food and Drink

At long last, you can homebrew w00tstout — officially!

One of the great joys of my life, the hobby that relaxes me and keeps me sane when the world is threatening to turn me into a pile of goo, is homebrewing my own beer.

I document all of my homebrew adventures at my homebrew blog, the Devils Gate Brewing Company, but this bit of news is so exciting to me, it’s getting its very own post right here on the mothership.

Northern Brewer and I have teamed up with Stone Brewing Company to make an official homebrew version of w00tstout!

w00tstout-homebrewThis is an official recipe for w00tstout, converted to homebrew specs with the help of Stone Brewing Company’s brewmaster, Mitch Steele. It is released with the blessing of all the collaborators, and I can’t wait to make it myself next week. It’s available in both extract and all-grain kits.

This is a huge beer, and not something I’d recommend for a first time brewer (if you’re looking to get started in homebrewing, you can get your feet wet with my #VandalEyesPA 1-gallon kit).

 

epic level homebrewing

I was the very particular kind of tired, bordering on exhaustion, where I felt dizzy, disoriented, a little nauseous, and clumsy. It was like being drunk without any of the fun.

I stumbled from my bedroom to my kitchen in the predawn darkness, and somehow made myself a cup of coffee. I stood at the back patio door and watched the glow of the sunrise begin to touch the eastern sky, sipping my mug of wake-up-Wil-it’s-going-to-be-a-long-day juice.

I’m sure normal people get up before dawn every day. I’m sure normal people sleep less than five hours a night all the time. It turns out that I am not a normal person, and after less than ten hours of sleep over the previous 48 hours, as well as back-to-back 18 hour work days, I was a little sideways.

It would all be worth it, though. I was up so early because Anne and I were heading down to San Diego to make a special beer with my friends at Stone Brewing’s Liberty Station.

We drove to Union Station to catch our 6am train. We got there so early, the parking lots hadn’t even opened up yet. That seems like something Amtrak may want to look at.

Once we were in the station, we noticed that it has been vastly improved since we were last there, about a year ago. It’s clean, it’s well lit, and there were a number of good food options that had never been there before.

We found our train, boarded it, and I fell asleep before it even left the station. During the nearly three hour trip, I woke up a couple times when my head did that “fall down onto your chest and wake you up” thing, and when we got to San Diego around 9am, I was delirious and had a sore neck. Awesome.

Our friend Tyler, who works for Stone, picked us up and took us to Liberty Station, where I was introduced to Kris Ketcham, who is the head brewer there. Liberty Station is a little different from the main brewery in Escondido. It’s a smaller, 10 barrel system, and Kris can create and brew beers that are quite different from the things Stone is typically known for releasing. Later this month, we’re having a beer celebration at Liberty Station called Hop Con, and in addition to releasing w00tstout 2.0 there, we’re also releasing three special collaboration beers that Kris made with Rileah Vanderbilt, Bobak Ferdowsi, and me. I can’t say with Rileah and Bobak made, but I made a white sage IPA, inspired by Craftsman Brewing’s legendary Triple White Sage.

While Kris prepared some of the things we’d be using, I drank approximately sixty-one gallons of coffee, and ate a little breakfast. The caffeine, food energy, and overwhelming excitement I felt about brewing gave me access to an energy reserve that I didn’t know I had, and I didn’t feel even a little bit tired, once we started milling our grains.

When I’ve brewed at the Escondido brewhouse, it’s been really fun, and brewing on such a large scale is vastly different from what I do when I make beer at my house. I’m not as intimately involved, because I don’t need to be; computers and the equipment handle most of the work. But at Liberty Station, we worked on a 10 barrel system (that’s about 3500 bottles of beer if I did the math right) that was much more like epic level homebrewing.

Kris and I hauled something like sixteen 55 pound sacks of grain up some stairs and poured them into the mill so we could mash them. Then we collected all the various hops we’d be using, and weighed them out by hand. Finally, while we were mashing in (adding hot water and milled grains to the mash tun, where we turn water and grains into beer wort), I got to use a giant mash paddle to stir it all around. One of the things I love about brewing is how little the process has changed in hundreds of years, and I genuinely loved standing over a big kettle, stirring water and grains the same way a brewmaster would have in the eighteenth century. I was also grateful to not have to worry about that century’s infectious diseases.

Over the course of the day, I made beer with Kris exactly the same way I make beer by myself or with friends on my patio, but instead of making 5 gallons of beer, I made several hundred gallons of beer. The experience was really awesome, even though it was physically tiring to move so much heavy equipment and ingredients around.

When we were done cleaning up everything, we sat outside and had a celebratory beer with a light dinner. About halfway through our meal, my lack of sleep and days of intense work caught up with me, and I felt like I was going to fall asleep at the table. Kris drove us back to the train station, and I again fell asleep before the train even began to move.

I’m very lucky that I get to do the things that I do, and I’m grateful that all the hard work I’ve put into my life allows me to do these super fun and awesome things.

 

wil wheaton project tickets, music, tabletop, rampart

A couple quick things before I leave for work:

 

 

If you wanted to get your hands on some of my #homebrew, well, now you can.

Wil Wheaton joins Northern Brewer

I’m super excited to announce this today, because it’s one of those things that’s been in the works for almost a year, but I had to keep secret.

I’ve partnered with Northern Brewer to design and release some homebrew recipe kits this year (and hopefully beyond, if people like them enough). I don’t get into business partnerships with just anyone, but I’ve been a fan and customer of Northern Brewer for almost two years, and I am delighted to partner with them because they have high quality ingredients, incredible customer service, and genuinely love the homebrewing community.

Some of the marketing language in the announcement is a little much (I don’t think I’m a master brewer, yet), but I love how excited and enthusiastic everyone at Northern Brewer is to work together with me.

Our first kit is the #VandalEyesPA that I designed for my wife,  about a year ago. It’s a big IPA with lots of hops aroma, but a big caramel malt backbone to balance it out. Think of it as an IPA that drinks like a double IPA, I guess. It’s available in extract and all-grain versions.

As the year goes on, I’ll release more kits. I’m thinking about doing a sage saison, a coffee stout, a nice pale ale, and maybe a #w00tstout clone.

I’ll be blogging about my homebrewing adventures at devilsgatebrewing.com, and when you make these for yourself, you can even check in on Untappd because I’ve been entering Devil’s Gate brews there since I started almost three years ago.

I will pour you w00tstout tonight in Pasadena

Wil Wheaton Tap TakeoverAttention Pasadena and surrounding villages! Tonight, I’m joining my friend Greg Koch for a special tap takeover at the Stone Company Store!

We’re pouring a bunch of very special and rare Stone beers (2004 Double Bastard, anyone? How about the 03.03.03 Vertical Epic?) including our very own Stone Farking Wheaton W00tstout. I’m going to get behind the bar and pour beers, and I’ll probably drink some beers, too.

It’s going to be a whole lot of fun, it’s going to benefit the Pasadena Humane Society, and Anne’s going to be there with some of our 2014 celebrity pet adoption calendars for sale and autographing.

We’re doing our thing from 6-8pm tonight at 220 South Raymond. You can take the Gold Line to the Del Mar station, or if you’ve wanted an excuse to use Uber, they’ll give new customers $20 off your ride if you use the code “PHS” when you sign up.

how I made tonight’s barbecued summer squash

I made really yummy squash on the barbecue/smoker tonight. Here’s how:

Get whatever summer squash you like. I love zucchini and the yellow squashes that sort of hook at the top and if you try to talk to them they look at you like you’re stupid because squash can’t talk, you idiot.

I wash them, then cut them more or less in half. I take each half and slice it, longwise, into four pieces. I pretend I can’t hear the horrible screams from the yellow squash when I do that.

Then I put them all in a shallow bowl or something, and toss them in a very tiny bit of olive oil. You can try tossing them in wimpy, but you won’t get them back until Tuesday, and by then you probably don’t want them.

Now the spices. This part is more art than science, so just use your best judgement and be careful not to overdo it.

I use some black pepper, pink Himalayan salt, and Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning, which is a grinder with mustard seed, coriander, sea salt, onion, garlic, paprika, and chili pepper. Grind all that stuff up together, and then toss it over your squash. When the yellow squash makes weird porny noises, just ignore it, unless you’re into that thing. Wash your hands when you’re finished, weirdo.

Spread the veggies all out on either the grill, or one of those veggie basket things. The important thing is that each piece of squash is touching the grill with its skin, so its seeds are looking back at you like “you monster we were going to be more plants!”

You want this to be over VERY HIGH HEAT initially, for about 4 or 5 minutes. After that, you can move them to another part of the grill for a little bit while the coals settle down. What you’re trying to do is get some of the skin to heat up a whole bunch and get blackened.

Let them sit on the grill for another few minutes, then turn them all over so the seeds are like wait this is much worse now we’re staring into the “fiery fires of the barbecue and oh god it is burning us into deliciousness!”

If you have wood chips (I use mesquite) throw them onto the coals now, and let the fires leap up and kiss the squash. Play some Barry White if it helps. After a minute — and no longer than a minute — close the lid of your barbecue, so it fills up with smoke. Now you’re going to smoke the squash for about six or seven or eight or whatever minutes. Play some Grateful Dead or Phish if it’ll get them into the mood.

Take the squash off the barbecue and give it a couple minutes to cool, because HOLY FUCK WILL IT BURN THE EVERLOVINGSHITCOCK OUT OF YOUR MOUTH IF YOU DON’T, which is how it gets its revenge on you.

Some people like the squash to be crunchy. I don’t, and I won’t judge those clearly insane people. If you know one of those mentally-challenged people, just have them reduce all the times by a minute or two, and then secretly laugh at them while you enjoy your cooked-to-perfection barbecued summer squash.

my son is pretty funny

I realized this morning that I didn’t have any oranges or orange juice to make my world famous (inside my house) port wine cranberry sauce to go with dinner tonight, so I grabbed a bag and prepared to walk up to the grocery store.

“I need you to get blah blah blah blah blah,” Ryan said.

“I have no idea what you just said, so write me a list,” I said. Ryan tore a page out of his notebook and started writing things down on it.

Anne came out of our bedroom, and asked me where I was going.

“I need some things from the store,” I said, “so I’m walking up there to get them.”

“How about we walk Seamus and Marlowe up there? They can use the exercise, and then they’ll be calm for the rest of the day.”

I thought that was a fine idea, a fine, fine idea, Stuart, and I said as much. I went to the closet to get their leashes and harnesses. I imagine that the following went through their minds:

Seamus: THE DOOR TO THE CLOSET IS OPEN! A WALK IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW AND WE ARE ON IT!

 

Marlowe: DOOR! DOOR! DOOR! WALK! WALK! WALK! WALK! WALK!

 

Riley: I’M A DOG!

Seamus and Marlowe ran to the closet, and showed their excitement to get at what’s inside the closet by making it impossible for me to open the closet. You know, like dogs do. This is when Riley realized what was going on.

Riley: OH SWEET DOGGIE JESUS A WALK IS HAPPENING AND WHEN I GO ON A WALK I GET TO SMELL THINGS AND SOMETIMES POOP ON A YARD AND THEN THERE’S A BIRD AND I BARK AT IT AND IT FLIES AWAY BUT I KNOW THAT I COULD CATCH IT IF I REALLY WANTED TO BUT I DON’T WANT TO BECAUSE ANOTHER DOG PEED ON THIS BUSH AND I HAVE TO ALSO PEE HERE BECAUSE OH MY GOD IS THAT A DOG IN THAT WINDOW? BARK BARK BARKBARKBARK!

 

Seamus: Welcome to, like, an hour ago in dog time, Riley.

So I found myself surrounded by three very excited dogs who were determined to show exactly how much they can jump and bark and generally turn my nice, quiet living room into a maelstrom of fur and jumping.

It took a minute or so (an eternity in “I-am-ready-to-go-on-a-walk” dog time) to get them all leashed up and ready to go.

“Okay, so you guys need to walk Riley,” I said to Ryan and Nolan, “because she can’t make it all the way to the store and back. Also there is no way the two of us can handle three dogs plus a bag of groceries on the way back.”

You’ll note that it never occurred to me to drive to the store, because it’s a gorgeous day here and walking places is usually better than not walking places, for distances under 5 miles.

Anne and I headed up to the store, and the kids took Riley around the block. About ten minutes into the walk, I realized that I’d forgotten my phone and Ryan’s list.

“Ryan wanted me to get things and I forgot the list,” I said.

“Call him,” Anne suggested.

“I also forgot my phone,” I said. We looked at each other. Seamus growled at something that only he could see. Marlowe wagged her tail so fast I briefly wondered how wagging dog tails could be employed to power small villages in the developing world.

“You’re on fire this morning,” Anne said.

“Yeah, I know. I’m awesome.”

We got to the store. Anne told me she needed mayonaise to make the wasabi deviled eggs, and waited with the dogs while I got the things I needed. That’s when I discovered that there is pretty much a wall of mayonaise options in our grocery store, in amounts ranging from “I need a little mayonaise” to “GORGE MYSELF ON GALLONS AND GALLONS OF DISGUSTING STUFF MADE FROM EGGS AND OIL AND SHAME.”

I completed my purchases, in the process reaffirming my superpower of wrecking whatever line I’m in simply by the act of choosing it: I got behind two guys who had two things: Pedialyte and Tums (clearly recovering from a hangover). Instead of it taking them less time to pay for them than it’s taken me to write this paragraph like it should have, they paid with a combination of dollar bills, grimy handfulls of change, a little bit on a debit card … and then remembered that they really needed cigarettes so the whole thing started over. Then we got to wait for the cigarettes to show up from wherever they keep them locked up in the store.

I met Anne and our dogs outside the store, and we began the walk home. Seamus and Marlowe were very excited to see children out with their parents, squirrels everywhere, and something on a yard that couldn’t be seen, but required enthusiastic rolling around and grunting to fully appreciate.

We got home, and Ryan met us at the door.

“You didn’t take my list!” He said.

“I know, I was distracted by dogmageddon when we were trying to leave.”

“I tried to call you and your phone just rang and rang!”

“That’s because it was left on the kitchen counter. Didn’t it raise any suspicions when you called my phone and then something playing my Doctor Who ringtone made noise in the house while I wasn’t picking up?”

“Shut up.”

That’s when I saw his list, which made me laugh so much, I wrote almost a thousand words just to introduce it on my blog:

Yep. He’s my son alright.

I am always thankful for my life and the people who are in it, especially my family. This morning’s walk to the market is just one small reason why.

Further adventures in Homebrewing: This is the recipe I designed for Bronze Dragon Brown Ale.

Bronze Dragon Ale LabelsThis is the recipe I designed for Bronze Dragon Brown Ale.

I'm not sure what happened in Beersmith2, but when I opened it up a little bit ago, my entire recipe database vanished, so I had to manually enter all this stuff from my brewing journal notes (keep good notes, kids). It is telling me that there aren't any hops in it, but I can see them, so I don't know WTF is wrong with my installation. If anyone out there knows how to make it go, I look for things… things to make it go.

Anyway, this should be about 28 IBUs. When I do it again, I'm going to dial back the Chocolate Malt from 1 pound to maybe 8 or 10 ounces. 

Right now, it's got a nutty sweetness, maybe a hint of caramel, with just a bit of hops on the back of the tongue. I really like it. It's not especially carbonated (I think I messed that up) and it doesn't have much of a head.

Feel free to do whatever you want with this; I'm releasing it under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike license. If you brew it, I'd love to know hear your results.

BeerSmith 2 Recipe Printout - http://www.beersmith.com
Recipe: Bronze Dragon Brown Ale
Brewer: Wil Wheaton
Asst Brewer:
Style: American Brown Ale
TYPE: Extract
Taste: (0.0)

Recipe Specifications
--------------------------
Boil Size: 2.60 gal
Post Boil Volume: 2.60 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.00 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.058 SG
Estimated Color: 31.6 SRM
Estimated IBU: 0.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 72.0 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
------------
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
16.0 oz Chocolate Malt (US) (350.0 SRM) Grain 1 13.8 %
4.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt - 120L (120.0 SRM) Grain 2 3.4 %
6 lbs.         Dry Extract (DME) - Light (8.0 SRM) Dry Extract 3 82.8 %
0.75 oz Nugget [13.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min Hop 4 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Mt. Hood [6.00 %] - Boil 15.0 min Hop 5 0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz Ahtanum [6.00 %] - Aroma Steep 5.0 min Hop 6 0.0 IBUs
4.2 pkg American Ale II (Wyeast Labs #1272) Yeast 7 -


Created with BeerSmith 2 - http://www.beersmith.com
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If you can't see the recipe clearly, here's a plain text version you can download: Download Bronze Dragon Brown Ale

 

Even more adventures in Homebrewing

Northern Brewer sells these recipe kits that aren't clones of commercial beers; they are the actual recipe from the brewery, using the same grains, hops, and yeast strains.

Today, I homebrewed one: a Surly Cynic Pro Series Kit.

Surly is a brewery in Minneapolis, and the Cynic is a Saison. What's a Saison? Well, allow Wikipedia to tell you:

"Saison" is French for season, because these ales were traditionally brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption during the late summer harvest for farm workers who were entitled to up to five litres throughout the workday during harvest season. Today they are brewed year round. As the saison style originated before the advent of refrigeration, Belgian brewers had to brew in autumn or winter to prevent the ale from spoiling during the storage period. After brewing, the ale was stored until the late summer harvest. Although now most commercial examples range from 5 to 8% abv, originally saisons were meant to be refreshing and thus had alcohol levels less than 3%. Because of the lack of potable water, saisons would give the farm hands the hydration they needed without the threat of illness.

Like most interesting beer styles, this one developed because there was a need for it. It persists because there is a different need.

One of the most important aspects of homebrewing is controlling the temperature of the fermenting beer. Too cool, and the yeast will go to sleep. Too hot, and the yeast will go crazy and produce all kinds of yucky flavours that are yucky. Also, yucky.

Because I don't currently have a big awesome refrigerator that I can use to control my fermentation temperature, I have to brew "in season" using yeasts that can tolerate warmer or cooler temperatures. That means in that I'm doing wheat beers and saisons right now (the #VandalEyesPA was an exception, because I convinced Anne to let me turn our guest bathroom into a 69 degree cold box for two weeks. Totally worth it.)

So the yeast I used with this beer is from Wyeast Labs. It's called 3522: Belgian Ardennes. It is happy from 65 to 85 degrees, so the 70-74 degrees I can keep a fermenting beer at in my office without much effort is going to be perfect.

The brew day was a delightful experience. Anne went to work early, and I ran up to the store to buy some water and a big bag of ice. Last night, I prepared my yeast so they'd be ready to go to work today. I talked to them whenver I walked past the packages on the kitchen counter: "Oh, you guys have no idea what you're going to get to do in a few hours!" and "I hope you're hungry, little yeasties!"

This isn't weird at all, I assure you.

So I took all my gear out onto the patio, and started heating up water for the Mash. The Mash is what it's called when grains are soaked in water to get all their sugars out. The water is collected after a thing called the Sparge, and that water — which is now full of tasty sugars and colored depending on the type of grain that was mashed — is brought to a boil and turned into beer.

It was really hot today, but not so hot that milk would be a bad choice, if you were into drinking milk, which I am not because milk is disgusting.

Anyway.

It was hot, and I decided that, since I was all alone in my backyard and nobody would be disturbed by the sight of me, I took my shirt off. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window, and I was surprised to not see a pudgy guy staring back at me. I guess working out three times a week, drinking less beer, and eating a really healthy diet is paying off. Go me.

I got the water to the temperature I needed, added it to the grains, stirred it, and then played Hungry Hungry Hippos for an hour while chemistry did its thing. I heated up some more water to do a thing called the Mashout (heating the water to a point where sugars stop coming out of the grains), then I did the Sparge.

This recipe does a neat thing called first wort hopping, which is where you put hops into the brew kettle before any heat is applied. I've never done this before, but it sounds really cool. Here's how master homebrew genuis John Palmer describes it:

An old yet recently rediscovered process (at least among homebrewers), first wort hopping (FWH) consists of adding a large portion of the finishing hops to the boil kettle as the wort is received from the lauter tun. As the boil tun fills with wort (which may take a half hour or longer), the hops steep in the hot wort and release their volatile oils and resins. The aromatic oils are normally insoluble and tend to evaporate to a large degree during the boil. By letting the hops steep in the wort prior to the boil, the oils have more time to oxidize to more soluble compounds and a greater percentage are retained during the boil.

Only low alpha finishing hops should be used for FWH, and the amount should be no less than 30% of the total amount of hops used in the boil. This FWH addition therefore should be taken from the hops intended for finishing additions. Because more hops are in the wort longer during the boil, the total bitterness of the beer in increased but not by a substantial amount due to being low in alpha acid. In fact, one study among professional brewers determined that the use of FWH resulted in a more refined hop aroma, a more uniform bitterness (i.e. no harsh tones), and a more harmonious beer overall compared to an identical beer produced without FWH.

The FWH I used were Styrian Golding, an awesome hop that I don't normally use because I make Pale Ales and IPAs, usually, with American hops. Styrian Golding is grown in Slovenia and has this fantastic, spicy, grassy aroma. It's really different from the American hops I usually use that have piney, floral, or citrus aromas and flavours.

I set all my timers, wrote down a bunch of notes in my journal, and turned on the Sonos. I always listen to music when I brew, and I keep notes about what I played because… um. Because of reasons. Today, I listened to Pink Floyd and Yes, because it just felt like a prog rock kind of afternoon.

Everything went off without a hitch. I didn't have any boilovers, and my dogs kept me company the whole time. I did get a little sunburned on my shoulders and neck, but I'll just take that like a badge of honour (Badge name: Stupid Wil Forgot To Put On Sunscreen.)

When you brew beer, you want to hit a number called Original Gravity. This number measures how much sugar and potential alcohol is in the wort (the wort — pronounced like the kid with the wooden leg in Diablo — is what your boiling mixture of barley and hops is called until you put yeast into it). Every beer has a Target Gravity, and the closer you get to the Target Gravity, the more likely you'll make the beer you wanted to make. The Target Gravity on the Cynic is 1.053, and I ended up at 1.052. That's close enough for me, and within the margin of error. I should finish with a beer around 5.2 or 5.2 percent alcohol, which will be a nice break from the 6.5% of #VandalEyesPA.

When the brew was done, I cooled my wort, poured it into a fermenting bucket, added just under a gallon of "top off" water to bring it up to five gallons, and pitched the yeast. 

"Okay, little yeasties!" I said to the first packet, "you guys have so much awesome sugars to eat! Go have fun!" 

I poured the yeast into the wort and got the second packet ready. It was so swollen, I was afraid it would explode, so I whispered to it: "Hey yeasties! Guess what? There's about 100 billion of your brothers and sisters in this bucket here, and I'm going to let you join their party. Just relax for a minute while I vent some of this pressure off…"

I gently tore a corner of the package and took a tiny blast of yeast to the face.

Go ahead and make your own Peter North joke here, gang.

"Okay, go hang out with your pals, and get to work!" I said. I poured the second packet into the wort, sealed the lid and stuck the airlock into the top. I wiped yeast off my face and put my hands on my hips.

I did my "I'm so very pleased with myself" move, and went to the patio to clean up from a successful and thoroughly enjoyable brewday.

My beer will ferment for about 2 weeks. Then I'll move it into a different fermenter to continue for another 2 to 4 weeks, depending on some things. Then, I'll bottle it in big bottles (because that seems like the right thing to do with a Saison) and let it condition for two weeks.

If everything goes according to plan, this should be ready to drink right around PAX, or just after, which is when it gets really hot here in Los Angeles… and is perfect Saison weather. 

In which Anne and I make beer

I got into bed around 2300 last night. Anne followed a few minutes later, and was asleep a few minutes after that. I stayed awake reading until about 130, which is something I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. I can’t fall asleep before 130, no matter how hard I try, so rather than fight it, I just read until then, turn off the light, and drift off to the Dreamlands for 8 or 9 hours. Last night, I finished Mike Doughty’s Book of Drugs, which gets 5 of 5 stars from me.

But that’s not what this post is about. 

This post is about beer. Specifically, the making of beer with my wife this weekend.

Last summer, my son Ryan spent a couple months with Anne and me between graduating college and starting his job. One day, he said to me, “We need a father/son hobby that we can do together while I’m here.”

“Yeah, that would be awesome,” I said, “what did you have in mind?”

“Let’s make beer together!”

And we did. And it was awesome.

Almost one year later, I’ve made 23 batches of homebrew. I’d say 17 of them have been good, 3 of them have been great, and 3 of them were… learning experiences. 

I’ve learned a lot about brewing in a year. I’ve learned about the history of beer, the science behind brewing, and why certain styles of beer are the way they are. I’ve shared my passion with anyone who cares to listen, and I’ve found something that will be a life-long hobby. 

Oh, also? About every five weeks, I have some new beer to drink and share with my friends and neighbors, that I made myself.

When I started brewing, I used extracts and very simple kits to make some tasty beers. I was happy with that for several batches, but eventually, I wanted to try my hand at brewing with grains instead of grain extract, so I could make my own version of Stone’s Pale Ale. I studied my homebrewing books, read hundreds of posts on forums, and eventually felt like I could give it a try. It wasn’t difficult at all, was actually a lot of fun, and ended up giving me one of those 3 great batches I mentioned.

Since then, I’ve done a mixture of extract and all grain brews, always following someone else’s recipe, or using a recipe kit I bought from Austin Homebrew Supply. I’ve spent a lot of time playing with software like Brewtarget 1.2.4 and Beersmith, but I wasn’t confident in my ability to design and brew my own recipe. That all changed when I was talking with Anne about beer, and she mentioned that she was very fond of IPAs that had a citrusy, piney hop character. I thought to myself, “You know what? I bet I could make my wife a beer that she’d like. I think I need to do that.”

But could I really do it? Could I really come up with a combination of grains and hops that would make good beer? What if it sucked? What if it was a waste of time and money?

As Charlie Papazian said, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.” So what if it didn’t work? I’d keep good notes, make changes if necessary, and try again another time. I know it sounds silly, but it took me a few months to come to this conclusion, to have the courage to just go ahead and do it.

About two weeks ago, I sat down with some of my favorite books, opened Brewtarget, and got to work. It was easy and fun, and I came up with something that I thought was pretty decent I shared it with the Homebrewing Subreddit* and on my G+ thing for feedback from other homebrewers. I listened to everyone’s feedback and ideas, and tweaked and modified my original recipe until I was happy with it. On Wednesday last week, I went to my homebrew supply and bought 15.25 pounds of grains, a whole bunch of hops, and some yeast. 

“I made your IPA recipe,” I told Anne. “I’m calling it #VandalEyesPA.”

“When are you making it?”

“Saturday. Want to help?”

“Yeah, that’ll be fun.”

So Anne and I spent Saturday afternoon making beer together. I explained to her what each step did — doing so helped me stay focused on what I was doing, and seemed to deepen my understanding of the process — and we took tons of pictures of the whole thing. There was even some live-Twitter-blogging (isn’t all Twittering “Live Twittering”?) of the afternoon, using the hashtag #VandalEyesPA”**

It was a beautiful afternoon, warm but not hot, with just a tiny breeze to keep us comfortable. Our dogs played on the patio while we sat out there, our cats chased bugs and birds and each other around the yard. All the while, we stirred the boiling wort, made sure we weren’t boiling off too much, and documented the entire experience for each other and anyone in the world who wanted to follow along.

The entire process took about 6 hours from the time I heated water for the mash until we pitched the yeast, and they were 6 of the happiest hours of the year for me. Anne and I spend a lot of time together, (we are absolutely the best of friends in addition to being married) but we’ve both been so busy this year, we haven’t had a lot of time to actually do something together like this, just for the sheer joy of it.

When we were finally finished and I was putting the fermentation bucket into the guest bathroom (where it stays cooler than any other room in the house), I said to Anne, “I’m so glad that we did this together.”

“I had a good time,” she said.

“And now this is our beer, which makes me feel a lot happier than I thought it would.”

“When will it be ready?”

“It should be done fermenting in about 7 days, so I can rack it to clear when I get back from Toronto.”

I started to explain what that meant, but she cut me off. “I know what that means,” she said. I guess I talk about this stuff a lot; I'm nerdy that way.

“Anyway, the important thing is that it should be ready to drink about 6 weeks from today.”

“Eat all the sugars, little yeasties,” I said as I double-checked the blowoff tube and settled the fermentation bucket into a tub filled with cool water. I looked at Anne. “I talk to my yeast. You know, because I’m not crazy.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” 

I dried my hands and we walked out, closing the bathroom door behind us.

“You want to watch Game of Thrones?” Anne asked me.

“Yes. Yes I do.”

A perfect end to a perfect day.

 

*I love Reddit for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason I spend more time there than any other site is the small communities of awesome people in the smaller subreddits. If there’s a thing you love, there’s probably a subreddit for it, and the odds are very good that the signal to noise ratio doesn’t suck.

**Anne puts googly eyes on everything, and calls it “#VandalEyes.”