Category Archives: Food and Drink

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 -
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

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 -

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.


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.” 


Wil’s Yummy Asparagus

My contribution to dinner tonight was some yummy asparagus, it totally didn't suck, so I wanted to share the simple steps to create it with the Internet:

Wil's Yummy Asparagus

1. Get some asparagus.

2. Wash it off.

3. Cut Snap off the bottoms where it's all fibrous and gross.

4. Put about 2 inches of water into a pan.

5. Put some garlic salt into the water.

6. Bring your about-to-smell-great water to a boil.

7. Put the asparagus into the water for about 2 minutes, turning it or rolling it over once after about a minute.

8. Put some olive oil into a shallow dish.

9. Put a little bit of powdered garlic and ground pepper into the olive oil and mix it up real good.

10. Brush the tasty oil onto the asparagus.

11. Grill the asparagus (if you don't have a grill, you can use one of those grill pans) for about 4 or 5 minutes, turning a few times so you get nice charring all over it.

12. Serve immediately.

13. The next several times you pee, that's your body saying, "Dude! You had some seriously yummy asparagus tonight!"

Update: Reader Sans Diety offers this addition: During the last minute of grilling, squeeze a lemon over it, and then add a slight bit of grated Parmesan, just as it comes off the heat.

on the bottling of my Hefewheaton

I bottled Wheaton's Own HefeWheaton yesterday. Here are some notes I made:

  • Lost about a gallon to trub. Not sure how that happened. I haven’t lost that much in a long time.
  • Much more pale than I wanted. I was going for 10 SRM, but it’s closer to 5 SRM.
  • Too early to know, but I don’t get any clove in the beer. There’s a faint hint of banana if I look for it. 
  • Looks like it’s about 5.1% ABV. 
  • This is going to be drinkable, for sure, but I’m not sure it’s going to be what I was hoping for.
  • I think I may have collected 1 gallon too much from the mash tun, which is why the SRM is lower than I wanted. 
  • I’m sure the lack of clove flavour is from the fermentation temperature. I understand that WLP300 gives clove close to 70, and I struggled to keep fermentation below 80.
  • I’m a little hard on myself, I know, because I was comparing my just-into-the-bottle brew with Mission’s Bavarian Hefeweitzen.

It should be ready just about the beginning of next month. I'm interested to see what flavours emerge after it's bottle conditioned for awhile.

Up next, another Arrogant Bastard clone. After that, I'm going to focus on brewing the same pale ale (probably Stone Pale Ale, from Greg's book) for a few batches in a row, in an effort to make the exact same beer; I understand this is sort of the holy grail of homebrewing.


I buy almost all of my homebrewing stuff from my local homebrew supply, because without the kindness of the owner, I never would have had the courage to start what has become a passionate hobby for me.

It's important to me to support local businesses, especially when those businesses are part of a hobby, like game shops, comic shops, and homebrewing. From time to time, though, I decide that I want to try a kit or need a yeast or some hops that the local shop doesn't have. When that happens, I order from Austin Homebrew Supply or Northern Brewer.

A few months ago, I ordered an Arrogant Bastard clone kit from AHS. When the box was delivered, this was drawn on one side:

I thought it was incredibly awesome and clever, and then I saw on their G+ page that their shipping department occasionally draws beautiful and awesome artwork on boxes, and I was one of the lucky recipients who got something contextually relevant.

So here's to you, Austin Homebrew Shipping department! I'll hoist a homebrew in your general direction while I'm watching the hockey game tonight. Sadly, it won't be the one that was delivered in this box, because it turned out so well it didn't last more than a week after we started pouring it.

this is clever, cute, entertaining, and has the potential to be awesome

About a year ago, I saw this commercial:

I’m not going to lie to you, Marge: I thought it was pretty awesome. It’s beautifully shot, it’s clever, and it doesn’t beat me over the head with some sort of BUY THIS THING message; it entertains me, which is what good advertising should do.

About a month ago, my agent sent me an intriguing offer: the people who did that commercial (it’s called The Date) were doing something new, set in the same universe, using the same band, and they were interested in having me participate. It was clever, it was cute, it was entertaining, and it had the potential to be awesome.

I told them that I’d love to be part of this thing in exchange for some shiny gold rocks, and after agreeing upon the number of rocks and how shiny they would be, Business Happened. I’ve been pretty excited to talk about this since we closed the deal, and today I finally can.

The agency that made The Date created this Facebook app called Heineken Serenade, that lets you build a song to ask someone out on a date. You answer some questions, like who you want to ask out, why you want to go out with them, what you want to do on your date, and why they should say yes. The app uses your answers to build a song* for you that goes on their Facebook wall. They send you an answer that goes back on your wall, and everyone wins. I think it’s really cute and clever, and some of you may know that clever is my Kryptonite. 

I made one for Anne, that looks almost exactly like this.

If you’re interested in making your own, you can do it here. If you do, and end up going on a date as a result, leave a comment and let me know, okay? I know at least one marriage has happened between people who met via my website (back when we had the Soapbox message board) and I think it would be pretty awesome if I helped nudge more people towards making a love connection.

*640 different combinations in 24 different languages, performed by Paul “Kiss” Kissaun, who did the song in The Date, which is cool.

Further adventures in Homebrewing

It was warm on the patio, and a gentle breeze stirred the trees in the back yard. The Postal Service played on the Sonos. A Stone Pale Ale sat on the patio table, condensation beginning to bead up on the neck and run down the bottle. Next to it, the 10 gallon cooler I’d turned into a mash tun with judicious use of weird plumbing things that, 24 hours earlier, had been as relevant to my life as a musket. Just behind the mash tun, in a paper bag, nearly 13 pounds of crushed grains waited to go into the mash tun.

I looked at the brewing kettle on the propane burner to my right. The water was beginning to stir, small bubbles rising from the bottom as science happened. I took out the thermometer and checked the temperature: 155 degrees.

“Well, here goes nothing,” I thought, in the digitized voice of Lando Calrissian from the Return of the Jedi arcade game. I picked up the bag of grains, and poured it into the cooler-cum-mash tun. It filled it about 1/3 of the way in a small cloud of fragrant dust. I turned the heat off on the burner, and stirred the water. I checked the temperature again: between 160 and 162. Perfect.

I lifted the kettle off the burner, and carefully poured most of the water into the grains. I stirred them around, making sure they were all wet, and then added the rest of the water. I set the timer for an hour, and recorded all the steps I’d taken in my brewing journal.

Project 9. I wrote. Stone Pale Ale. First All-Grain! 11/3/11 2:10 PM.

When Ryan suggested that we make beer together this summer, I thought it would be an awesome father/son project, an excuse to spend a lot of time together, and something that would end with us having our own beer.

All of those things happened, and they were all awesome. Mission accomplished.

What I didn't expect, though, was that I would be here, a few months later, working on my 9th batch of beer. I didn't expect to find myself in a hardware store last month with a diagram in one hand and a bunch of weird plumbing bits in the other, planning to convert a 10 gallon cooler into a mash tun. I didn't expect to know what a mash tun even was, in fact.

And yet here I was, using one I’d built myself, to make my friend’s beer, following a recipe out of his book. It was exciting, exhilarating, and a little frightening.

Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew, I reminded myself as I took the temperature: 160. Still too hot. Shit. I should have let it cool more.

I went into the house and grabbed a pint glass out of the kitchen. I poured my beer into it, and took a nerve-settling drink. If everything went according to plan, in about 5 or 6 weeks, I would have a homebrew version of it that I’d made myself, entirely from scratch.

I checked the recipe again, confirmed that I had everything set up the way it was supposed to be set up, and checked the temperature again. It was 155, still hotter than the 152 it was supposed to be.

Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew. I took another sip of my beer, smaller this time, and looked around the yard. It was unseasonably warm for early November, the breeze carrying the slightest hint of autumn in front of it. My dogs came out of the house and began chasing each other around the yard. I took the temperature again: 152. I really did relax, and stopped worrying.

About an hour later, I opened the spigot on the mash tun and began collecting my sweet wort. Just like the book said, it began cloudy, with some grain hulls in it, but quickly cleared. I stopped the flow, poured the cloudy liquid back into the mash tun, and opened the spigot again. I noticed that it was leaking a little bit where I’d failed to make a perfect seal against the wall of the cooler, but a little jiggling and prayers to Hanseath stopped it up pretty quickly. I’ll have to figure out a way to fix that, I thought.

As the liquid drained into the brewing kettle, I picked up a pitcher of warm water at the prescribed ratio of liquid to grains, and began my sparge. I’m sure this is nothing for experienced homebrewers, and for non-brewers it probably doesn’t mean anything, but it felt like a major achievement when I saw the sweet wort that I’d created by mashing my own grains begin to fill my brew kettle. That’s going to turn into beer, and I’m doing it entirely on my own! I made this! I thought, in the old X-Files voice.

The sparge happened a little faster than I wanted, but I collected almost six and-a-half gallons, nearly filling the brewing kettle to the top. To prevent a nasty boilover, I drained off about a half gallon, which I took into my kitchen in a small jug. I set it on the counter, and took a long, deep smell… it was wonderful, just the way it should smell. I poured some into a little glass I have with a monkey on it, and took a cautious sip. It tasted very similar to the sweet wort from the first batch of beer Ryan and I made during summer, but this came from grains I crushed and mashed myself, instead of extract. I felt a tremendous sense of achievement, and wondered if it would be weird to drink it all on principle.

I went back onto the patio. The dogs had tired themselves out, and were snuggled up together on a piece of carpet they claimed after we put out there to be thrown away six months ago. On the Sonos, The Postal Service gave way to Tegan and Sara. I fired up my burner, and hit the countdown timer on my phone. For the next ninety minutes, I stirred like a boss, added hops on schedule, and never had a boilover. The patio smelled heavenly, and I wistfully wished that I could bottle the aroma as well as the beer.

When the boil was finished, I put my copper wort chiller into the kettle, and began cooling it. It only took about 25 minutes and around 15 gallons of water (which I collected and used to water plants for a couple of weeks after) to get down to 70 degrees. I was astonished by how smoothly everything was going, but I didn’t stop to think about it too much, having grown up in a place where the simple act of declaring “Hey, the traffic isn’t too bad,” will instantly result in a Schumacheresque multivehicle explosion a mile ahead of you that snarls traffic on every freeway in the city for twelve hours.

I picked up my journal and wrote Boil w/o incident for 90 min. Wort chiller worked perfectly. 25 min to 70.

I took the chiller out, and gently put my hydrometer into the liquid. This was the moment of truth: this was when I found out how closely I got to the target gravity to 1.056. I gripped the glass between my thumb and forefinger, and spun it with a snap of my fingers. I felt like I was watching a roulette wheel, knowing that I’d placed the mortgage payment on black.

The numbers blurred, and it pushed tiny ripples outward to lap against the side of the kettle. A few eternal seconds later, it slowed and bobbed freely in the center of the wort. I held my breath and looked closely at it.

1.055. Adjusted for temperature, it was actually 1.057.

I may have let out a victorious cry that drew the attention of my dogs, who may have quickly lifted up their heads in a jingle of collars and tags. I may have pumped my fist like a fool. I may have looked again, more closely this time, to confirm that I hadn’t imagined it. I may have taken the hydrometer out, put it back in, and repeated the entire process, just to be sure.

It’s been a few weeks, so I can’t confirm or deny that those things did or didn’t happen… but I do know that in my brewing journal I wrote in large, excited, vigorously underlined script: OG: 1.057!!!

I took the hydrometer out and set it carefully on the table. Those things are so delicate, it’s a miracle someone as clumsy as me doesn’t break them every time he looks at them. (I’m on my third, by the way.)

Then, I opened the spigot on the kettle and let the wort flow into my fermentation bucket. When it was done, I stirred it like crazy with a wire whisk and a spoon until the surface was thick with foam, and then I stirred it some more. When my forearms were sore and my back ached from leaning over, I let the spinning wort settle down, and then I pitched my yeast. The Longwinters began to play on the Sonos.

“Go to work, little yeasties! Eat all the sugar and turn this into beer! I believe in you! You can do eet!”

I put the lid on my fermenter and put an airlock into the top. I moved it all into my office, and began the waiting game.

(Waiting game sucks.)

Ten days later, I racked the beer into a carboy to clear. Ten days after that, I bottled just over four and one-half gallons of my very own Stone Pale Ale. I checked my final gravity before I added my priming sugar, and may have scared my dogs (and all my neighbors’ dogs) with the victory scream I let out when I saw that the final gravity was 1.015, exactly where the recipe said it should be. I did some math (math is hard) and calculated the ABV to 5.5%, exactly where it should be. 

Now, I’m playing the waiting game again until around December 12th, when I’ll be able to open my first bottle of this beer and find out if the final is as close to where it should be as it’s been every step of the way. 

Making beer is this wonderful intersection of science and art and cooking that is more fun and rewarding than I ever expected it to be. It’s so easy, and so rewarding, if you like art and science and cooking (and beer) you should totally make some of your own.

Even if my Stone Pale Ale isn’t exactly where it should be, I’m happy that I made it and enjoyed the process. Even if it isn’t exactly what I am expecting, I’ll keep on making more beer, learning something new from each batch, because I've found a hobby that I'm going to love for the rest of my life. If I could make beer every weekend, I would. If I had the space to build a big old system with fancy things and a whirlpool and a cooler for lagering and — okay, maybe I wouldn't do that … this year.

Post Script: After I made this batch of beer, Anne and I went to the Stone Bistro and Brewery in Escondido. As we were walking up to the doors from the parking lot, the smell of brewing washed over us.

"They're making Stone Pale Ale," Anne said.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Because it smells exactly like our patio smelled a few days ago when you were making it."

I can't say for sure, but I in my head, I may have been done the Snoopy Dance.

Recipe time: Wil’s Sinusitis Can Suck It Vegetable Soup

I managed to go eighteen whole months without getting sick, but sometime in the last week or so, something worked its way into my sinuses, and it's been kicking my ass for the last 48 hours.

For most of the last week, I've been waking up in the morning with an intensely sore throat and painful, burning sinuses. I've been coughing and sneezing like crazy, so I figured it was just allergies (If it pollinates, I'm allergic to it. Yay), and dealt with it accordingly.

Clever girl, sinusitis. You had me fooled… but you gave yourself away yesterday with the heavy chest, body aches, and the general fatigue, and now I can fight back! Muwahahaha!!!1 *cough* *cough* *cough* *Krusty The Clown Groan*

Last night, I was so miserable, I just wanted some nice, warm comfort food. Even though I don't eat meat, I gave serious consideration to chicken noodle soup, but I ended up making a hearty vegetable soup instead. Anne loved it, and some friends asked for the recipe, so here it is. I got everything at Trader Joe's:

Wil's Sinusitis Can Suck It Vegetable Soup

  • 3 cups tomato juice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes, or 4 chopped fresh tomatoes (save as much of the juice as you can)
  • 4 or 5 carrots
  • 3 or 4 medium potatoes (I used the red, gold, and purple medley) 
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium yellow squash
  • 4 or 5 stalks of celery (I used celery hearts)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Bragg's Liquid Aminos (Soy or Tamari sauce also works)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme

I prefer to use organic vegetables, or at least vegetables that haven't been grown using any pesticides, but as Rick Ross said, do watcha like.

Wash all the vegetables. Slice the zucchini and squash. Slice the potatoes, then quarter the slices. Chop the onion, celery, and carrots. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a stock pot or large (~4qt) sauce pan. Sauteé the carrots, onions and garlic until the onions are translucent and the carrots are bright orange, about 2 or 3 minutes. Be careful that you don't let the heat get too high and burn the oil. Add the potatoes and stir. About a minute later, pour in the tomato juice and water, and turn the heat to maximum. Add all the veggies and spices. Stir like a boss. If the veggies aren't covered, you can add a little more tomato juice.

Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 30 minutes, then let cool, uncovered, for about 10 minutes (unless you're into burning the hell out of your mouth. I don't judge.)

Serve with some crusty bread (I got a nice artisan boule of sourdough, but I bet it would be great with some spent-grain bread).

Note: You can add other veggies if you want, just make sure you increase the liquid to account for the extra stuff. I considered kidney and garbanzo beans, and I bet you could toss some cauliflower or broccoli florets in there, too, if that was your thing.

Notes on the making of my Polymorph Porter

Monday night, I opened a bottle of the first porter I brewed. I took a picture for the Internets that looks something like this:

Polymorph Porter

(click image to embiggen at Imgur)

It turned out much better than I expected, considering there was a near disaster when I brewed it. Read on if you want to hear a story about making beer, and how it really is difficult to screw up, no matter how hard you try.

This is the Chocolate Maple Porter from Brooklyn Brew Shop. I had a few hours to myself one afternoon recently, so I spent it brewing. I was careful, made meticulous notes, compared what I was doing in the kitchen with what I'd read in books and online, etc.

It's only a one gallon kit, but I boiled it in the 6 gallon kettle I use for my regular 5 gallon batches. When I was finished, I put the lid on the kettle, and set it into my sink, which I'd filled about halfway with water to cool the wort. Physics happened, and the kettle started to float. I caught it, and weighed it down so it wouldn't try to bob around and tip over.

Whenever I finish brewing, I cool my wort by setting the kettle in the sink with some cool water, and after that water starts to warm up (yay thermodynamics!), I dump in twenty pounds of ice in two ten pound increments. (Can you see where this is going?) So I put in the ice, physics happened, and the kettle floated and tipped over. I caught it before the lid could completely come off, but I still lost about half of the wort.

At this point, I was pretty angry with myself for making such a stupid mistake, but it looked like the wort had only spilled out, without letting any water or ice in, so I remembered to relax and decided to go ahead and finish it. "At the very least, it'll be an interesting experiment," I thought.

So I cooled the wort, pitched the yeast, and let it ferment for a week. I kept expecting it to get infected, but it never did, and when I bottled it (I only got 5 bottles), it looked and smelled great, and it tasted like a porter.

So flash forward to Monday night. As you can see, it doesn't have much of a head on it, but it's really smooth and very, very viscous. It has a burnt chocolate/dark chocolate flavor, with a hint of caramel. I don't really taste the maple at all, but I also screwed up and primed with honey instead of maple syrup, so that may have contributed to that.

So, overall, considering that I really screwed up at least once in the process, I'm happy with it. I'm especially happy that I went ahead and took it all the way to bottling, and I'm interested to taste it in another week or so, after it's had even more time to condition.

If nothing else, I hope this an inspiration to other newbies like me, who may be afraid of screwing up their beer. If my experience is any indication, it really is difficult to mess up.

If you can make oatmeal, you can make beer. It's incredibly fun, incredibly rewarding, incredibly easy, and when you're finished YOU HAVE BEER THAT YOU MADE. If you're looking to get excited and make something, it's a great place to start.


For those of you who don't brew beer. Here's an oversimplified version of how I did it for the Porter:

  • Soak grains in hot water for about 45 minutes. (This is called Mashing.)
  • Remove grains from the water, leaving behind tasty stuff. Pour more hot water through the grains to get any other good stuff that's clinging to the grains. (This is called Sparging.)
  • Bring the resulting good stuff, called your wort (pronounced wirt, like the kid in Diablo), to a boil with some clean water. Add hops according to a schedule for an hour to give it bitterness, flavor, and aroma. (This is called The Boil, and is the first and only step that has a name that sounds like what it actually is.)
  • Cool the wort to about 70 degrees and add the yeast. (This is called Pitching the yeast.)
  • Put it all into something to ferment for about a week or so. (This is called Fermentation, and it turns out that I lied in step 3.)
  • Put it into bottles with some priming sugar, wait two weeks or longer, then drink. (This is called Awesome.)

You can get the glass as part of a set from Think Geek.

I used Beer Labelizer to make the label. So did redditor arkorobotics who did this one.

There are a ton of mail order places, if you don't have a local homebrew shop like I do. Check out the vendor list at Homebrew Talk if you're interested.