Brewing up a batch of Blind Ambition Amber Ale

It’s said that when you get to hell, they play a video of your first date over and over for all eternity. If I don’t make it to the pearly gates, maybe the Devil will instead play a video my first homebrew.

Despite my bet efforts to plan ahead and make things predictable as possible, there were plenty of chaotic moments, and I did things that would likely make a good brewer cringe.Part of this was due to Didi, the lovable but slightly brain damaged cat who generally got in my way in the kitchen.
I chose to make a pretty straightforward Amber Ale from a single kit I bought at MoreBeer! in nearby Los Altos. With basically little idea of what I was doing, but have plans to keep homebrewing, I decided to call it Blind Ambition Amber Ale.

The Recipe
The recipe below is straight from the More Beer! kit.

8 lbs. Ultralight Malt Extract
1 lb Crystal 60L Steeping Grain
1 once Galena Hops, Bittering Hops boiled for 60 minutes
1 once Willamette Hops, Flavoring Hops boiled in the last 5 minutes
1 once Willamette Hops, Aroma Hops added for the last minute
5 gallons distilled water
Yeast strain: California Ale Yeast? (from memory, didn’t actually write down the strain)

Original gravity: ???? (Not measured, recipe estimates it should be 1.060)
Final gravity: 1.008

Brewing Notes
OK, I didn’t get the original gravity because once the wort was in the carboy, I was reluctant extract some of the wort back out of the carboy, potentially introducing a source of contamination. The crystal malt was steeped at about 120-150 Fahrenheit, which may have been a little low. Did a partial boil of about 3 gallons of wort, cooled it in my bath tub to something that seemed like room temperature, and then poured it into the carboy. To that, I added the remaining 2 gallons of water which was chilled in the fridge. After about 1 1/2 days, active fermentation was observed. The wort fermented for 15 days, then 2 cups of water with 4 ounces of corn sugar dissolved into it was added to prior to bottling the final product.

I kicked up a lot of the yeast from the bottom of the carboy lifting it up from the floor into the kitchen sink to siphon the beer into the bottle filling bucket. With about 4 out of the 5 gallons of beer siphoned out, I started noticing large particulates in the siphoning hose, and with that, abruptly stopped filling any more bottles.

Tasting Notes
As you can see from the picture above, a pretty solid white head floating above the hazy light brown brew. I really liked the spicy, aromatic character imparted by the Galena and Willamette hops. The malt was there, but was a little thin, as would might expect with the low final gravity. However, there was a noticeable grainy character to the beer. I also noticed that a few of the bottles had a noticeable harshness, which seemed like an alcohol presence to them, which is really an off-flavor for the style. Differing levels of carbonation in the bottles suggest I need to mix in the priming sugar more evenly next time.

My final, highly biased, verdict. Not a bad beer. It’s maybe as good or better than 10-15% of the craft beers I’ve tried, whhich includes a few clunkers from craft breweries where something went horribly wrong. But Blind Ambition Amber Ale is certainly not a good beer. But I enjoy drinking it, and quite frankly, the only person I really have to satisfy is me so on that score, it is a modest success.

If you’re wandering on by and read this, and have any thoughts or advice, don’t hesitate to let me know. I would love to get any advice from any real home brewers out there.

Lower the drinking age?

There’s an interesting article on the CNN website, which argues for a lower drinking age. You can read it here, with the gist of the argument seeming to say that a lower drinking age coupled with more regulation and intervention is the best way to limit binge drinking at an early age. You can also participate in a discussion on the topic on Mario Rubio and Peter Estaniel’s latest Hopions.

Lots of good beers, and one lame autism joke: 6th Annual Brews on the Bay

The 6th Annual Brews on the Bay was held on the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, a World World II era merchant ship docked on Pier 45 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The seven members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild were spaced around the deck of the restored ship, pouring their beers. I suppose I could write about the festive atmosphere aboard the ship, or the U2 cover band that playing. Or I could just start writing about the beer. But instead, I’m going to write about a subject one of the pourers at the festival was joking about. It’s something many people aren’t familiar with, and often people aren’t comfortable about. The subject is autism.

Linda and I were at Thirsty Bear, and one of the pourers was loudly apologizing for having Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. My eight year old son Brandon has autism, so I turned to him and told him, “It’s OK, my son has autism. Having Asperger’s is OK”. He looked stunned, and I suddenly realized at that moment he probably didn’t have Asperger’s, and his affliction probably involved sampling way too much of Thirsty Bear’s product. I’ve said enough stupid stuff stone cold sober to cut the guy some slack, so shrugged off the lame joke, and Linda and I walked away with our Thirsty Bear brews.

Five minutes later, Linda and I are somewhere inside the ship, sipping our beers and looking at various rooms restored to their World War II era appearance, when a woman from Thirsty Bear came up to us and said “I’ve been looking all over the ship for you. I want to apologize for that guy who told you he has Asperger’s Syndrome.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. We told her not to worry, that we still liked Thirsty Bear, and it wasn’t a problem, and thanked her for her concern. My son Brandon was diagnosed 5 1/2 years ago, and I’ve more or less come to terms with his condition, so I pretty much shrugged this off.

Most people rarely if ever deal with autism, and often when confronted with it, are confused and uncomfortable as to what to do. Brandon’s autistic behaviors are erratic, confusing, nonsensical, and yes, at times, funny. So I can actually understand why some guy might think it’s pretty funny to say “I have Aspergers”. But I find that 99.9% of the people who meet Brandon for the first time deal are confronted with this awkward situation, respond with a great deal of patience and understanding, which is huge for Brandon overcoming his behaviors. Who ever tracked us down inside the ship from Thirsty Bear to apologize, thanks so much for going the extra mile. It’s people like you who give Brandon a fighting chance.

OK, let’s talk about beer. Here’s what Linda and I liked that evening, starting with a couple from our friends at Thirsty Bear.

Thirst Bear Valencia Wheat
We both enjoyed this clear, refreshing wheat beer, brewed with a little coriander and orange peel in the Witbier style. It poured a clear yellow, so perhaps it was filtered. The noticeable orange flavor gives this one a nice twist.

Thirsty Bear Irish Coffee
I didn’t note what style this was, but appeared to be a barrel aged, Imperial Stout with lot of bitter coffee goodness, and we noticed some whisky in the background. Seemed a little light on the malt for the Imperial Stout style, which I found to be a good thing that evening, as it made for an easy drinking barrel aged Imperial Stout. I don’t know if you’re into something like that, but it worked for us.

Speakeasy Mickey Finn Imperial Red Ale
I’ve found many excellent brewers turn this style into something really aggressive, with a double punch of bitter roasted malt and heavy hops, and the result is often barely drinkable. That’s not the case here, as this Imperial Red from Speakeasy has a flavorful caramel malt, with some raisin like character, and a mellow resiny aftertaste.

Magnolia Dark Star Mild
Magnolia seems to focus a lot on their malt, and it seems to be reflected in their beers, which have an artisan bread character to them. Mild is almost a forgotten style in the United States, but this drinkable session beer with lots of roasty malt and a slightly grainy character made me wonder why.

San Francisco Brewing Hugh Hefnerweizen
When it comes to beer, variety is the spice of life. I cannot, and will not simply settle down with one beer. But this Hefeweizen from San Francisco Brewing is luscious, yet slightly muscular, and has a slightly sweet, alluring aroma. It tastes a little rich and fruity with seductive banana notes. If forced to be faithful to one beer, I just might shack up with this one.

Maybe someday, Brandon and I can talk about our favorite beers.

Recent Study on the Co-existence of Drinking and Excercise

First brought to my attention on Tim Cigelske’s Beer Runner, is this study showing that those who drink actually tend to exercise more than those who don’t. Given that plenty of runners drink, not to mention football players, cyclists, and even bowlers regularly knock back a few pints, the study seems a little like proving the sun rises in the east. But it shows what many people have known all along. Responsible drinking and exercise easily co-exist.