It’s time to start brewing…

Shortly after Christmas I received a notice that my sister and brother-in-law had gotten me a gift subscription to Brew Your Own magazine. Over a week ago I placed an online order for two beer-related books – Beer & Philosophy and Sacred & Herbal Healing Beers. And last week I finally placed my order for homebrewing equipment with Northern Brewer.

Yesterday I came home from work to find that my homebrew equipment, book order, and first issue of Brew Your Own magazine had all arrived on the same day! It definitely felt like a beer kismet/destiny kind of thing going on. The message was quite clear. It’s time to start brewing.

Before opening my shipment of homebrew equipment, I did what any reasonable beer lover would do and started with a glass of fresh, craft brewed beer – in this case, Anchor Steam Beer. Good stuff!

After much study and contemplation, I ended up going with the Deluxe Starter Kit from Northern Brewer, plus an 8 gallon brew kettle and a wort chiller. I had been advised to get a quality brew kettle from the start of at least 7 gallons, so I made that a priority. I had also read that a wort chiller is extremely helpful when making all-grain beer to improve the flavor and clarity of the finished beer, so I decided to get that up-front as well.

I really wanted to get their Deluxe All-Grain System with a mash/lauter tun set up, but I had already spent my wad… so that purchase would have to wait. I’ll need to start rebuilding my homebrew piggy bank before I can get my mash/lauter tun set up.

The only thing I need now are the actual ingredients. This weekend will include a trip to our local homebrew shop for my first kit. My first batch of homebrewed beer is just on the horizon. I hope it ends up drinkable!

-Jenne Hiigel

About Freshness…

In general, beer is like bread. The fresher you drink it, the better it will taste. That doesn’t mean a 30 or 60-day-old beer is bad, it’s just that a beer with a bit of age will taste different.

I had the opportunity recently to compare the same beer at two different ages. One keg was two days old and the other was 60 days old. It was a blind tasting with three glasses. One of the beers was poured twice and the other just once. It was my job to see if I could tell the difference.

A key ingredient that seems to mellow with age is hops. In the fresh beer the hops jumped out in both the nose and flavor. The aged beer was still good, but the hops weren’t quite as lively. I was able to identify the two ages fairly promptly and I clearly preferred the fresh beer, but there were others involved in the taste test who were able to identify the two batches and preferred the older beer.

Contrast that with a Russian Imperial Stout I had the other night that was brewed by Firestone Walker, fermented in bourbon barrels and currently had an age of about 21 months. Yum! That stuff was amazing. I had it at a beer dinner with a banana bread pudding with chocolate and the combination was delicious. The beer, called Parabola, is one of the beers used in Firestone’s blended “10” and “Eleven” beers and is not sold on its own (see previous post “Is Mixing Legal?”).

In knitting, age doesn’t affect the quality of the yarn as much as it affects your attitude towards it. “Fresh” yarn is a new acquisition that is such fun to work with. The excitement and potential of the yarn makes you want to start a project right away, even if you have 10 other projects already in progress. Yet “aged” yarn is often a treasure to uncover, allows for a calmer savoring of the yarn, and tends to inspire a more patient, appreciative approach to the project.

With both beer and yarn, fresh is always good. A bit of age makes them different, but not necessarily worse; sometimes age makes them better. And when a beer or yarn can handle a long amount of aging, the result can be an uncovered treasure that you didn’t know was possible.

-Jenne Hiigel

Is Mixing Legal?…

A couple of nights ago, my hubby set down two glasses of beer for us to taste. One was Kostritzer Schwarzbier, my favorite German black beer, and the other was Kostritzer mixed with specific proportions of Murphy’s Irish Stout and Spaten Optimator. The purpose of the mixing was an attempt to improve the quality and longevity of the foam without altering the flavor of the original beer too much.

Some people might think it’s strange or wrong to mix beer. I mean isn’t a finished beer a work of art that should be kept pure? Hmmm… I agree that there are many beers that are so darn good that it would feel like a crime to change them, but then you aren’t really changing the beer so much as creating a new beer.  And sometimes a mixed beer is the perfect one for the occasion.

The classic mixed beer would be the Black & Tan, traditionally made with Bass Ale and Guinness; so there are situations where mixing is widely accepted. Mixing is done all the time in wine, so what are the possibilities if you allow that flexibility for beer? For that, let’s take a trip to Firestone Brewery and look at Brewmaster Matt Brynildson’s “10” Beer released in 2006 and his 2007 release of Firestone “Eleven”.

Firestone “10” was brewed for the brewery’s 10th anniversary and is a blend of 10 different beers. Matt brought in several winemakers in the area to help determine the proper proportions of each beer in the blend. In Firestone “Eleven” Matt continued the project for a second year, since the “10” beer was so well received.

Mixing is often done in knitting as well, by creating an aran cable pattern sweater with a fair isle panel or a gansey style with cables and perhaps a multi-color feature. Mixing of styles does not disrespect the original. It allows the creation of something new by combining the best qualities of two separate styles. Mixing is a creative tool that should not be shunned.

There is a time for purity and a time for adventure. Both have value. Mix on!

-Jenne Hiigel

We Are Not Alone…

At our knitting group/pub venture on Dec 10th (Sorry I haven’t written in a while. The holidays distracted me.), Karen arrived at the Black Sheep Bar & Grill first and claimed our table at the front window of the pub with some great lighting. This was our second group venture into combining beer and knitting, and so far the lighting for knitting has been excellent. Looking around the pub it’s clear that Karen did a great job of selecting our seats, but it also gives me hope that we don’t always need to wear flashlight headgear in order to knit in a bar.

The waitress asked if Karen was part of the regular knitting group that comes in on Mondays. Well, this took her (and us) by surprise. As long-time residents of San Luis Obispo County and active participants in the fiber arts, particularly in knitting, weaving, and spinning, we have heard about most of the regular groups that meet around the county. How is it that we had not heard about a group that meets at this pub in the heart of our downtown? I guess we need to get out more!

It turns out that the group she mentioned meets every other Monday and they were at the pub the previous Monday, so they wouldn’t be coming in. I sensed a slight disappointment in our group that we weren’t the true trailblazers that we thought we were, but that was shortlived as we wondered who those other knitters were! We’ll have to come on the correct Monday sometime and encourage them in their venture.

It’s always a kick to be part of a true Zeitgeist movement. We are not alone in our desire for something besides coffee or tea to drink while we knit. After a bit of discussion about which beer to order, our group of seven held up our glasses and toasted our evening of knitting, beer and conversation. For some reason the feeling of celebration would not have been the same if we had been using teacups and coffee mugs for our toast. (I may have to pursue the reasons for this in a later post.)

It was another great evening of beer and knitting, and we all agreed we should do it again. And to all of you knitters that are already out there combining knitting and beer, you are not alone and we hope to meet up with you someday. Prost!

-Jenne Hiigel