Porter #2 is in the fermentor…

My first batch of Porter is done, but not gone. After I found a few people who actually liked the beer far more than I did, I tasted my Porter again with a different perspective. Clearly nothing has gone wrong with the beer. It was a successful homebrew with no off-flavors. The aroma, which I can only attribute to the dry yeast I used, is something I just don’t care for. So I shall continue to work to improve my beer.

My second batch of Porter has been in the fermentor for two days now and the yeast is bubbling away. It’s such a beautiful sight to see the yeast doing its job so well! This beer is an extract/grain clone recipe of Fuller’s London Porter, a very yummy English Porter. This beer used a liquid yeast and steeped more grain for a longer period at a specific temperature, with a brief sparging at the end of the steeping.

My second attempt at brewing went much smoother than my first one. The ball valve on my brew kettle still leaked slightly in the beginning, but it was slow enough to just slip a heat-proof bowl under and move on to the brewing. The wort was smelling really good as I brewed and I just love smelling and adding the hops, this time it was Kent Golding hops.

The only glitch came when I was trying to chill my wort from boiling temperature down to about 75 degrees. I have a wort chiller that works great, but when the outside temperature is 94 degrees and inside our house is 80 degrees, it’s hard to get anything down to 75. I got close enough though, pitched my yeast, aerated my wort (shook it up real hard with the yeast in it), and put my faith in the yeast’s ability to do it’s job. By the next morning the fermentor was bubbling beautifully.

I’ve got real good vibes about this batch of beer. It’s smelling good and feeling good. I think I’ll be a bit more anxious to try a finished bottle of this Porter.

We have another Beer & Knitting night planned for this Wednesday. This time my fellow knitting/beer drinkers were nudging me to hurry up and set another date for a gathering. It’s great to see so much enthusiasm!

-Jenne Hiigel

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Getting Distracted…

I haven’t been working on my book project as much as I would like to. Life has gotten in the way of my ability to get up at 5am and get some writing done before getting ready for work. I must admit, though, that a significant part of my problem is a website I’ve discovered that is causing me to become distracted from my project at hand. The website is BookMooch.

Innocently enough, this website was designed to allow people to trade books that they no longer need or want for books that might be of more interest to them. The trading is based on a point system. You earn points by listing books that you’re willing to give away, you earn more points by shipping your books to another person, and then you use points by mooching books from other BookMoochers. Your only cost is the postage to ship the books, and since they can be sent via Media Mail the shipping is darn reasonable.

I joined BookMooch at the end of January and in shortly over two months I have given away 52 books and mooched 32 of them. It’s one thing to spend time boxing up and mailing the books that others have mooched, but then you’ve accumulated quite a few points and you start browsing for books that you didn’t know existed that you desperately need. When the books start arriving, it’s time to start reading. I’ve even switched from knitting while I walk to reading while I walk!

Then while I’m reading about the health benefits of honey, past life regression, reincarnation, gardening, herbs, salem witch trials, traditional chinese medicine and a variety of other topics, my interest in certain subjects begins to peak and I start looking on amazon.com for more books related that topic! My focus has clearly now been diverted from my original task of writing my beer & knitting book. I know. It’s an old, sad story. The evils of the internet.

So I’m trying to get back on track with my book writing. I managed to mooch a beer-related book about the history of Guiness. When that arrives I’ll at least be back to reading about the proper subject. Then if I could just stop staying up late into the wee hours reading all my mooched books, I’d be able to wake up at 5am to write and still be awake at work at 3:00 in the afternoon. A lofty goal I know, but I’m going to give it my best effort.

Back on the Porter front, I’ve determined that my beer is as good as it’s going to get. It has aged in the bottle for six weeks now and the last couple of weeks have not made a big difference in flavor. Our neighbor two doors down gave me a bottle of his Vanilla Porter, so Chuck and I did a side by side taste test with his porter and mine. Both were made from the same recipe that we got from our local hombrew shop. The only differences were that he used a liquid yeast and I used a dry yeast, and he added vanilla bean.

The flavor differences between the two yeasts was quite noticeable. There’s an aroma in my beer that I’m not fond of and I can only attribute it to the yeast. Chuck has been helping me with the beer analysis as well, and he’s not tasting anything wildly off in the beer – and he’s quite good at identifying beer-gone-bad. Our neighbor’s beer didn’t have the same aroma. His was fruitier with a slight vanilla nose and flavor. This will be my one and only batch of beer with a dry yeast. From now on I’ll be brewing with liquid yeast. I’m looking forward to feeling confident enough with my brewing to want to start experimenting. I’m sure I’ll get there someday.

As much as I want to move to all-grain brewing, I am being advised that not only is it possible to make a perfectly good beer from extract, I should stick with extract brewing until I’ve got that wired. Then I’ll be ready to take on the additional complication of all-grain brewing. I can only mess up so many things with extract, but with all-grain you have so many more opportunities to screw up your beer if you don’t know what you’re doing. Okay, okay… I’ll brew some more extract beers.

So I asked my brother-in-law how I can make a better beer. He said to change the recipe. If I were cooking something and wasn’t happy with how it turned out, I would look for a different recipe. Brewing is no different he told me. A good recipe is the key to a good beer. Find a beer you like, look up the clone recipe for that beer, and start there. You can change it down the road or move on to an all-grain version of that recipe, but you have to start with a good foundation. And he told me to switch to liquid yeast. He said his beers improved immediately when he started using liquid yeast.

He gave me good advice about my brew kettle (told me to buy an 8-gallon kettle, and not a puny 5-gallon one), so I’m ready to take his advice about the recipe and yeast. My next beer will be a clone brew of Fuller’s London Porter. My May/June 2006 issue of Brew Your Own magazine is on its way with both an extract and all-grain clone recipe for this awesome porter. With any luck this batch of beer will be good enough to want to drink more than half a bottle!

-Jenne Hiigel