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9th Street Brewery

August 8, 2010

I’ve been drinking beer for several years now (the exact number escapes me), and brewing it for only three or four of those. So to start swaying the balance of wasted time over to the brewing side of this enjoyable hobby I thought I might put on another batch and share the process on this here blog-a-billy.

We’ve only got a week or so before we move out of our current residence and into the queen of all land vessels, Sandy Belle. Although our new place will have ample space for brewing and other such creative activities the ability to put the fermenters in a location that is cool enough during the hot Californian summer will be lost with our move away from Lex’s parents and their basement with its year-round 70 degree temperature. The need to put a brew on was heightened when my brother and nephew announced their imminent visit in October. So, after realizing that a brew was necessary, and in quick-smart fashion, I began considering what style of beer to make. It came to me in a flash, much like a bus coming round the corner just after you’ve lit a cigarette.

October = Octoberfest = Oktoberfest. I would make an Oktoberfest. But not a normal Oktoberfest. Of course not, why make something normal, something that’s similar to all the other stuff available in the stores when you have the unlimited possibilities afforded by being the recipe creator, brewer, consumer, and critic all rolled into one. There is also the little matter of Oktoberfest being officially a lager and the yeast that help to make lagers lagers only work in low temperatures of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. (Some of you may not realize, but there are highly regulated guidelines for almost every style of beer imaginable. The BJCP Style guidelines are used by beer judges to help them assess how good a particular beer is. Personally if it makes me go “mmmmm” then it’s good, if it makes me go “emmm?” not so good, and if it makes me go “eeuch!”, well that kind of speaks for itself.) Although the basement at 666 is cool, it’s not cool enough for fermenting lagers. After consulting some of my favorite sources I decided to use a German Ale yeast strain which would help give the beer the dry, crispness of a lager without actually being a lager. It would also have to work because it’s German, right?

I also figured that some smokiness was required to give it a little character and make it work really well with some nice smoked sausage or some barbecued pork. So, with that in mind I share with you the making of “Hogtoberfest”, the last beer to be made (by me at least) at the 9th Street Brewery and residence.

This is the view of the entire set-up. It’s pretty crude but hey, it works.

The brewer’s chair. Another necessary piece of equipment, as will be demonstrated as we get further into the procedure. Also at this stage, roughly 9 gallons of water are brought up to temperature using the propane burner.

The items on the tray include a thermometer, funnel, plastic spoon lacking any personality whatsoever, 1 gallon jug, and a hydrometer, all sterilised and ready to go. Unlike my style of cooking where I tend to just grab random ingredients from the fridge and throw them together in whatever combination I feel like, brewing requires the strict adherence to recipes. In order to achieve the desired outcomes in the character of the beer (things like bitterness, malt, alcohol content and such) it is necessary to know exactly when to add each ingredient and for how long each should be boiled, bashed, steeped, or mashed.

While I wait for the water to come up to temperature it’s also imperative to relax and sample some of my previous creations. That particular concoction is known as Lexie Littleton’s Blackberry Honey Porter, a dark and heavy porter made with fresh blackberries added to the fermenter and using honey from our friends’ orchard-pollinating bees.

Once the water reaches the desired temperature, this one was about 170 degrees Farenheit, the pre-crushed grains are mixed in and held at a constant temperature by the insulation of the mash-tun cooler for an hour, in the process known as mashing.

Another chance to sample some homebrew. This is Rankin’s Fancy, a British-style Pale Ale loosely based on a clone of one of my favourites, Deuchars IPA.

After the mash, the sweet wert is drained into the brew kettle and the grains are rinsed with more hot water to extract as much fermentable sugars, colours, and flavours as possible in the process known as sparging.

Putting the brew kettle on the flame and bringing the wert up to a boil sometimes takes a while……

… it’s usually another opportunity to get some real work done.

Inside the brew kettle, with the wert up to a nice rolling boil, it’s time to add the first of the hops.

Hops come in either whole flower form (as here) or in pellets. After years of fighting with the sludge leftover after brewing with pellets, I decided to use whole hops and only use pellets when absolutely necessary. In this instance the original recipe called for two types of hops that weren’t currently available at the homebrew shop so I opted to stick with whole hops and substitute for ones that had similar characteristics to the originals. When substituting hops, I’ve got to look at the alpha acids (the percentage on the packages) to ensure the beer is going to be as bitter as it would have been had I been able to use the original hops, and also the aroma and flavour of each hop to best match the original.

The hops are added at the start of a 60 minute boil and again at various intervals throughout. The early additions impart the bitterness to beer and the later ones are added for their flavouring and aromas. In Hogtoberfest I used two German styles of hops, Northern Brewer for bittering and a Spalt for aroma and flavouring.

Although keeping an eye on the boil and the timings of the hop additions, it’s important to keep on top of the chair duties and tasting.

….and meanwhile, on the stairwell…..

After the wert is boiled for an hour and all the hop additions are complete the wert is chilled as quickly as possible to prevent the development of any unwanted bacteria that may be lurking in the alleyway. The wert chiller is a coil of copper piping placed inside the kettle which cold water is piped through, thus chilling the wert.

When the wert is chilled down to about 70 degrees, it is then transferred to the fermenter with a pre-prepared packet of liquid yeast. I let it sit overnight in the breezeway of 9th Street before transferring to the cellar over at the in-laws. It will sit there for 7 days before being transferred over to a secondary fermenter for another week. At this stage it will be ready to drink except for the carbonation which will be accomplished by kegging the beer and putting it on CO2 in the kegerator. Another week or so and it will be ready, however, almost all beers really do benefit from a bit of aging, so by the time October comes around Hogtoberfest should be nicely carbonated and all the flavours will have mellowed and we’ll have a nice, slightly smoky, balanced beer.

I’ll report back after the tasting. If you don’t hear about it again, just assume that something dreadful happened like one of those wee beasties I previously mentioned got in there and destroyed about five hours of hard work and rendered the pointlessness of this posting even more pointless.

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