Homebrewers Conference…San Diego

I just got back from the annual conference of the American Homebrewers Association.  The last time I attended with my hubby was in 1983-BK (before kids). It was time to go again, especially since it was taking place in San Diego, CA (a mere 6 hour drive from SLO) and since the year is now 2011-AK (after kids).

What a fun trip! Three full days of immersion in beer and brewing, alongside other people who have the same passion. Informative and inspiring workshops, great beer, good conversation, and ideas sparking all over the place for both my book and my next batch of beer. There was one other knitting/brewer that I noticed, which was darn cool.

But I have to tell you the absolute best part of this conference. It was the gender ratio as it relates to the bathrooms. As a woman, I’m used to having to wait in line for the bathroom while the men just waltz in and out of theirs. That didn’t happen this time. The men were lining up out the door at their bathroom while I waltzed in and out of the women’s room with no wait at all. The few women that were in the bathroom were enjoying the lack of a line as much as I was.

So…if you want to attend an awesome event, and are a woman who would like to experience no waiting at the bathroom while the line at the men’s room grows, with increased grumbling from them along with it, be sure to attend the next AHA conference in Seattle!

-Jenne Hiigel

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Satisfaction From Making It Yourself…

“We have somehow built a culture that assumes making or fixing almost anything is somebody else’s business. There may be relief in having someone else make, do, and fix most items in our households, but there is little long-term satisfaction in such an approach to life”

-Philip Ackerman-Leist, Up Tunket Road

Re-reading this passage today, the words rang true in my soul. As a knitter and homebrewer, I couldn’t agree more with this statement. After a recent homebrewing session with our neighbors Tim & Brandi, who also provided an amazing dinner, it was clear that making and fixing things yourself brings deep, long-term satisfaction.

Even the projects that don’t turn out provide lasting and important lessons. While Tim was teaching his friend Brandon how to brew, he was explaining how sometimes a batch can go bad. Since I had a batch do just that and still had bottles left, I brought one over and we watched the beer gush and foam immediately upon removal of the cap. A great lesson that would not have been possible if I hadn’t brewed a bad batch of beer.

To top off a great afternoon and evening, Brandi had made creme brulee. Maintaining the spirit of “do it yourself,” torching the sugar was quite fun.

-Jenne Hiigel

“Women of the world, greedy men have stolen your beer and it’s time to take it back!”

Chris O’Brien is getting me riled up again. I’m re-reading his book Fermenting Revolution, particularly his chapter on putting the ale back in female.

“Growing numbers of people are brewing at home again and using beer to build community. Beer has its soul back. But one this is still missing, something that was integral to brewing and drinking for the thousands of years of human civilization prior to the machine age. Women remain remarkably absent in the modern world of beer.”

“Seeking the reward that comes from creative work, a growing number of men are discovering homebrewing and other do-it-yourself crafts. Many women, too, are seeking satisfaction in hobbies like gardening and knitting, pursuits once associated with familial nurturing that are now considered leisure activities. But women have been slow to return to the  brew kettle.”

“For millennia women have proudly taught their daughters to brew. It was a celebrated tradition, a creative outlet, and even an honor. Today it is a social faux pas at best, criminal at worst. My solution? Organize a “Take your Daughter to the Brewery” day. Teach your kids how to brew by involving them in the process. Gather your girlfriends for an educational beer tasting. Have a group brew. Femaleists of the world, whatever you do, get more beer into your life.”

I think it’s time for a homebrew day. Rather than just drinking beer together, I think we should brew a batch of beer together. Greedy men have stolen our beer, and it’s time for us to take it back!

-Jenne Hiigel

The Fog Begins To Clear…

About a week after I came to the conclusion that I would be writing my book primarily for knitters, I had lunch with a co-worker of mine who is not a knitter. I started explaining to him what my book was about; what brewing and knitting have in common, that I would be explaining the flavor differences between beer styles to make it easier to select a beer you might like, the effect that age and mishandling of beer can have on flavor and aroma (he was not aware that beer is a perishable product), why it’s important to drink beer out of a proper glass, and so on. By the time our lunch break was over he was very enthusiastic. He said, “I want to read your book!”

So… after struggling for months and then finally finding an epiphany that seemed to hold my answer, it’s clear that things continue to evolve. My book will be for knitters… and for anyone else who wants to learn more about beer, increase their enjoyment of the beer they drink, and expand their horizons in new beer directions. My book will also be about knitting. Not in the how-to sense, but in the heart and soul sense.

Now that my audience has become even clearer, I’ll take another stab at the Concept Statement for my book. Here’s Concept Statement #4:

Which beers do you like? Which ones do you dislike? Do you know why?

Through the harmonious pairing of knitting and brewing, A Knitter’s Guide to Beer will help you understand the various flavor components of beer, how to match beer styles to your current preferences, the importance of considering your mood when selecting a beer, the benefits using the proper glassware, the effect of age and mishandling on flavor and aroma, and the joys of being adventurous and delving into new beer territory.

Jenne Hiigel combines her knowledge of beer with her skills in knitting and homebrewing to enhance your appreciation of both crafts. Pull up a chair, grab your yarn and needles, pour yourself a beer and let’s get started. And remember… when in doubt, drink Pale Ale when knitting socks.

My Alaskan Smoked Porter clone turned out quite nice. It took almost a month before the carbonation was worthy, but now it’s a beer I can be proud of. I’m down to just a handful of bottles of my Fuller’s London Porter clone, so I brewed another batch a few days ago. This could very well be my session beer.

Now that I’m satisfied with my Porter brewing, I’m ready to branch off into new territory. I think I need hops. Lots of hops. It’s time to look for some IPA recipes.

Our local Writer’s Conference is coming up in less than a month. That conference always inspires me to get serious about my writing… again. This time it could stick.

-Jenne Hiigel

Beer, Surfboards, Knitting, Writing…

My time and energy of late has been taken up by the move of the store where I work, Central Coast Surfboards. We only moved three blocks, but a move is still a move… and not something I care to do very often. Our new shop is awesome and things are settling down a bit now that the move is behind us.

I’m looking forward to having more energy outside of work, so I can get back on track with my knitting, brewing, and writing. I have a smoked porter in the secondary fermentor and will be bottling that batch in a week. Next up on my brewing schedule is a repeat of batch #2, which is a clone recipe for Fuller’s London Porter. After that, I’m considering branching off to another beer style.

Beer & Knitting research is continuing. We had a good turnout for Beer & Knitting night at Yarns… at the Adobe on July 12th. My husband, Chuck, brought a wonderful selection of beers, along with his extensive knowledge of beer and industry history. I brought my homebrewed porter and Carrie brought her homebrewed meads. We even managed to fit in a little knitting!

Preparations have begun for the Cuesta College Writer’s Conference, which is always a wonderful motivator for me to get serious about writing. I’m the lead volunteer for the conference, so I always start focusing on the event a couple of months in advance.

My knitting projects have been leaning on the simple side… the kind where you can chat, watch a movie, or get interrupted without losing track of where you are. As soon as I can handle it again, I’ll add a project or two that require a bit of brain function.

My walking to work activity has switched from reading to spinning with a drop spindle. I love working directly with the fiber, especially the wool I got at a farmer’s market in Madison, Wisconsin. If only it were legal to drink a beer on the way home from work!

-Jenne Hiigel

Porter #2 & All-Grain Brewing…

Porter #2 has been in the bottle almost three weeks now and is tasting quite good. A significant improvement over Porter #1. I actually drank a whole bottle of the stuff and found it very tasty. The first two bottles we opened had good carbonation, but the last two overflowed upon opening. I’ll try refrigerating the beer before opening, to see if that calms down the CO2, but I guess I’ll need to pare back a bit on my priming sugar when bottling. I do plan to brew this recipe again, so I’ll have the opportunity to make improvements.

I had an all-grain brewing session with my brother-in-law that was very helpful. My two batches of Porter have been an extract/grain combo, but I’m very interested in moving into all-grain as soon as I can. We decided to brew an IPA. The recipe was based on Torrey Pines IPA.

The process was quite similar to my extract/grain brewing with a couple of additional steps. First, rather than steeping the grains we mashed the grains. This requires a container that can hold five gallons of water at a constant temperature for about 90 minutes. Many people use altered plastic coolers. John uses a plastic bucket with a false bottom (so it can double as a lauter tun to drain the liquid and filter out the spent grain), and has an insulating wrapper that keeps the temperature constant during mashing. The second additional step is sparging, which is the process of rinsing the grains with hot water to get as much of the fermentable sugars into the wort as possible.

Brewers use gravity to move the liquid from one vessel to another whenever possible. With most steps in the process being able to work with two levels is enough. I do this often by using the kitchen counter and the floor. With sparging, though, you need a third level in order for gravity to work properly and it’s the hot (171 degree) sparge water that needs to be on the top level. I might be able to use the top of the refrigerator for my third level, but I’m not thrilled about the idea of having to lift five gallons of 171 degree water above my head. My other option is to get a food grade hot water pump.

It was great to actually go through the process and see how all-grain brewing works. It was especially helpful that his equipment is quite similar to mine, with the one difference that my brew kettle is 8-gallons (rather than 5-gallons) and has a ball-valve. Definitely put a little extra money into your brew kettle! You’ll be glad you did.

As soon as I’m ready to invest in some more equipment (a mash/lauter tun, a sparge water container and spray mechanism, and possibly a hot water pump) I’ll be moving into all-grain. Guess it’s time to teach some more knitting classes to get some cash for my homebrewing! In the meantime, I visited John’s local homebrew shop and bought an extract/grain kit for a clone of Alaskan Smoked Porter. I’m looking forward to another brew day!

Our next Beer & Knitting night will be July 12th at Yarns…at the Adobe. This will be our first gathering at a yarn shop. Food will be pot luck and my hubby will be providing beer, although I’m hearing that some knitters may bring some of their favorite beers as well. Anne has a beautiful patio behind her shop, and with some cooperative summer evening weather it should be a great evening.

After a very busy June, I plan to be quite ready for a relaxing night of Beer & Knitting come July.

-Jenne Hiigel

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