The Terrible Pain and Joy of Brewing Your Own Beer

I have made beer.

That is a glorious sentence.  Before I detail our latest batch, I must take a moment to acknowledge our last one.  My friend and mentor in this brewmaking endeavor, Diego, asked for my assistance in making this batch of beer from all grains.  It was a weekday, we had limited equipment, I dropped the strainer in the bucket of wort more times than I’d care to acknowledge, yet we managed to succeed in creating an enjoyable beer to drink our first time around.  The beer was titled, Lost Spoon, and we were attempting to create it in the style of a belgian beer.  While the beer’s flavor wasn’t ultimately Belgian, we ended up with a very decent beer out of the deal and amazingly enough, we did it our first time through despite the missteps along the way.  It proves that beer is resilient enough to survive my meddling with the process.  An encouraging thought.

Our next batch was to be a Porter.  We had decided to prepare ourselves a little more adequately this time around.  I had gathered equipment of my own in order to feel more a part of the endeavor and to allow us to get at least 2 batches going at once.  I bought the following to complement the equipment already purchased by Diego: a 6.5 gallon glass carboy, a rubber carboy bung, an expensive and possibly unnecessary counter-flow wort-chiller, a sparge arm, 12 22oz. empty bottles, tubing, some bottlecaps, a bottle washer, a thermometer, and a hydrometer.

The equipment left for us to purchase was to make some sort of lautering system (i.e a water cooler with a spout and a mesh screen false bottom set a few inches above the bottom) in order to allow the grain liquid to separate from the grain and allow us to strain more water through the grains.  The ideal solution was supposed to work something like the game “Mousetrap”.  Our plan was to hook up a water cooler with a spout, fill it with hot water, and hook up a tube to the sparge arm on top of the second cooler(the sparge arm acts like a sprinkler, sprinkling hot water evenly among the grains).  Then in a perfect world, we would pour the hot mash and mash water slowly into the lauter-tun(the cooler with the false bottom), and switch on the spout in order to allow the water to begin to drain.  Immediately afterwards, we would start the hot water flowing down to the sparge arm, so that water is being drained and added at a fairly even rate, allowing us to sit back and watch the magic happen. 

It was time to put the plan in action.  Saturday morning we began our trek out to the homebrew store in Libertyville, IL.  Upon getting there we decided on a spout attachment and a mesh screen filter attachment to the spout in place of a false bottom.  Then began our long and painful search for a water cooler.  Most people will not know this pain because they won’t be searching for a water cooler in the beginning of Fall.  They will search for it in the Spring or Summer, like most normal people.  Upon getting home we found that the sparge arm I purchased was too large for the cooler we picked, causing me endless grief as my dreams of “Mousetrap” abruptly vanished.  Oh well, fuck it. It was time to sanitize.

When making beer, clean everything the beer will touch.  Don’t touch it afterwards, and if you have to, wash your hands first.  This is mostly important after the beer cools to room temperature.  We hooked up a turkey frier outside with some giant pots in which to steep our grains and boil the wort.  We also tested our lautering system and our wort chiller.  Then we positioned everything and began.  Here are the steps we followed based on a recipe from Charlie Papazian.

Unnamed Porter(Possible names: Vesuvius Porter, Lord of the Flies Porter, Large Sparge Porter, Giant Leap Porter)


Cascade 7.0% Leaf Hops 1 oz. (half for boiling, half for aroma)

Northern Brewer 8.5% Leaf Hops 1 oz. (for boiling)

Munton’s Premium Gold Yeast (6 grams)

Black Malt 475-525º L Briess Malting (USA) 1/2 lb

Crystal Malt 50-60º Simpson’s (UK) 1/2 lb.

Pale Malt (Crisp) 8 lbs

Munich 40 (Durst) 1 lb

Pesticide Free Chocolate 325-375º L Briess Malting (USA) 1/2 lb.

1 tsp gypsum

1/4 tsp Irish moss

Unnamed Porter Preparations (Final OG: 1.053):

1.       Acquire remaining supplies and build remaining equipment.

2.       Test out lauter tun system

3.       Test out hopback to wortchiller and take temperature reading

4.       Sanitize all equipment to be used: Carboy(’s), wort chiller, lauter-tun system, tubes, thermometer,etc.

5.       Set up lauter-tun

6.       In large pot, add ½ tsp gypsum to 10 quarts of water and raise temp to 145 degrees, as specified in the recipe

7.       Add the crushed malt to the water and mix well.  Temp should stabilize at 133.  Hold for 30 min.  Add heat if necessary, don’t worry about a 3-5 degree drop during this time.

8.     Add 5 quarts of boiling water to the mash.  This will raise the temp to about or just below 155.  Hold at 155 for 45 min, stirring occasionally.  Note: We accidentally added too much water and  raised it to around 160 and it fell slowly to 155 over 60 minutes time.

9.   Complete conversion by raising temp to 158 and holding for 10-20 min. Note: See previous note

10.   Raise temp to 167.  Then pour mash into lauter-tun slowly, floating the grain on the liquid to prevent a stuck runoff.  Make sure that the liquid level is always slightly above the mash level.

11.   In a pot, add ½ tsp gypsum to 3 gallons water.  Raise temp of the water to 170 and add to the lauter tun water supply.  Note: We only bought one cooler as we only had one spout to use.  Since the sparge arm was too big for the cooler anyway, we poured extra water directly into the lauter-tun.

12.   Begin draining from lauter-tun to pot below.  Begin water flow from cooler to lauter-tun.  Adjust rate as needed.  Note:  See note above.

13.   Bring wort to a boil.  Add boiling hops and boil for 50 min.

14.   Clean lauter system to use as a hopback later

15.   Attach sanitized tubes from sanitized hopback to sanitized wort chiller and from wort chiller to a sanitized 5.5 gallon carboy.

16.   Set up wort chiller to flush cold water

17.   After 50 min, add Irish Moss and boil for 8 more min

18.   Add aroma hops and boil for final 2 minutes

19.   Pour wort into lauter-tun(hopback).  Drain through chiller to fermenter.  Make sure to let wort splash to aerate it.  While pouring wort, take sample for Hydrometer and temp

20.  Enjoy confused looks from people walking by the front of your place as you manage this weird contraption.

21.   Measure OG and temp, and record.

22.   Secondary drain after 30 minutes to eliminate trub  Note: While this step was performed, we found it to be unnecessary as there was almost nothing that needed to be removed.

23.   Add extra water to fermenter as needed to reach 5 to 5 ½ gallons.  Note: Did not perform this step, total volume was possibly under 5 gallons.

24.   Pitch yeast when temp is 70-75

25.   Fit blow off tube into carboy opening and direct other end into a jar to contain the run off.  Place in a dark area.  Note: Didn’t do this part, just put on the fermentation lock as we assumed the foam would not reach the top, as we had a smaller volume than expected and there was no additional adjuncts.

 Oh the folly!  The hubris!  Anyway, that last step proved to be the biggest mistake I made during this process.  Neglecting the blow-off tube, to drain additional foam during the first few days fermentation caused a blow up of foam in the closet we were fermenting in, giving me a phone call on my way to the suburbs from my understandably angry girlfriend wondering why there is beer foam all over her closet and leaking onto one of her floor mats.  Luckily, she came to the rescue and put in a sanitized blow off tube and directed it into a bucket filled with water as well as cleaned up the beer mess in the closet.  I came to look at it a few days later to put back on the fermentation lock now that the activity has settled, and it looks like we have lost a half a gallon or so of beer via foam coming through the tube.  The upside is the beer will likely taste better now.  The downside should be obvious.  Anyway, a host of fruit flies has come to feed on the runoff beer that came through the blow off tube, and I’m going to spend the rest of the Fall getting rid of them.  But it smells delicious so far and at the end of all this hard work and post beer-making cleanup…..

I have made beer.

Downtown Chicago Octoberfest ’08

Last Thursday I went to Octoberfest in downtown Chicago with some co-workers.  A good time was had by all.  The beer selection left something to be desired, but wasn’t too bad (Berghoff Light and Dark beer).  For some reason at these events they pick a selection of 80s hair metal to play.  My mind has a hard time wrapping itself around the correlation between that and Octoberfest, but whatever.  Don your finest lederhosen or failing that a decent hair metal wig and check it out next year.  Here are a few choice pictures from the event:

Regarding the assumed offence of certain present parties:

I really need to start taking pictures.  I saw these guys with Susan last Wednesday, and it was a great show at a very unique venue.  While Does it Offend You, Yeah? doesn’t have a huge arsenal of music yet to make a long show, or give a decent encore, they have good stage presence and appear to be having a great time doing what they love onstage.  It’s contagious.

I find that I’m really only into about half of their music.  They seem to have two kinds of song, a sort of edgy raw energetic sound, and a kind of synthy pop sound.  While the latter isn’t really too objectionable, I can’t really find myself getting into it much.  The former sound though, I have a hard time getting out of my head.  While there’s an aggressive edge to some of it, they also manage to make it rather light-hearted and fun with the performance they give.  Anyway, kudos to them.  They managed to get the crowd jumping, moving, and shouting along in a place where you barely had enough room or air to do any of those things.

A word about the venue, Subterranean…..I kinda like it.  Maybe its a love/hate thing.  It’s located in Wicker Park, Chicago and the ambience is pretty fucking cool. It’s a small place, which puts you close to the band and the decor feels old-world.    There was a statue positioned on the wall above the stage,and a top floor that allows you to peer down to the stage on all sides.  The band actually gets on and off the stage via a small winding staircase that brings them upstairs to the backstage area.  I’ve heard this place has typically hosted a lot of hip hop acts over the years.

A downside to this place is that it can get packed real easily.  I couldn’t move without bumping into someone and it got seriously HOT.  The band played for about an hour and I was relieved to be able to get outside and cool off when they were done.  I might go see another show at Subterranean as it is definitely a unique venue and a cool experience.  I’ll definitely see Does it Offend You, Yeah? next time they come around and hopefully they’ll have some new material by then.

This isn’t a picture from the show, but it is a picture of the venue’s bottom floor area from some other show (a pretty unattended show from the picture).  I try to start taking my own pictures in the future.


The Art of the Business Haiku

I worked for about 2 years at a client site with some really great, funny people. Anyway, this whole thing kinda started when I was trying to get a winzip key, as we were using the trial version at the time.  Now, the trial version forces you to wait a long time before the program opens, which can be quite frustrating. I hadn’t gotten any response on my emails to resolve the issue, so I finally sent in a haiku. After that we started writing haikus more frequently and I’m happy to be able to look back on about 2 years worth of work-related poetry. Here are the ones I could find:

Regarding Winzip and its software key:


Trial versions suck

To unzip files without wait

Sublime fantasy.

Ben (Later in time):

Our key has vanished

The fantasy has ended

The dream is shattered.

Eric’s response:

My WinZip is fine.

Are you perhaps on QA?

Let’s restore the dream

Regarding Germophobic company softball players:


Lysol lover boy,

Dirty softballs make him cry

His can is empty

Regarding the hiding of a laptop power cord and Eric’s disgust of Altron:


Mighty Dunto Libre!

Pride cometh before the fall

Writer’s cramp, after.


Missing power cords

Left alone without a care

Totally wasteful

Regarding profects, Eric’s heroism, and Chicago winters:


Profects come at me

I assign them to Eric

Dark clouds disappear.


Alton and Restie

Making plans for future weeks

Chicago Winters

Regarding a short message, and missed Haiku opportunities:


What a bad haiku

I expected more from Ben

Disappointment flows.


Status with Tina.

I bring my spreadsheet with hope

Push back my build dates

Regarding the zealous editing of test scripts and the poor attaching skills of the tester:


Test Docs should Beware!

Her highlighter seeks and strikes.

Sheriff’s back in town.


The ghost attacher

Intended docs are no where

They float, dead in space

Regarding compliments bestowed on Altron and his fear of pofects and abandonment:


Ben is a rock star

He knows the way of the data

Wind blows through Corptax


Mighty data warrior,

Impending pofects frighten!

Tears soak my keyboard

Regarding the closing of PCS’s and of liberties taken with the traditional haiku structure:


You can close PCS

After you migrate your tasks

Actions are pending

Click click the things done

Seek verbal confirmations


Ben’s response:

PCS is closed

Cleansing winds clear my dashboard

And migrates my soul

Tina’s insolent reply:

Hmm I sense some strife

Disagreement lies within

Your subject and verb

These parts of speech

live harmoniously here

within Werber poems

Ben’s first response:

Obey the format!

One haiku for one message.

They’re not paragraphs.

Ben’s second attempt:

Two poems sewn into

A Frankenstein of meaning


Tina’s reply:

Frankenstein is right

A monster is created

Your poems are bastards

Regarding haiku requests, and the subsequent disappointment of the requestor:


The Dunton he schemes!

Sowing discontent and strife

Tears fill my inbox

Ben’s response to the disappointed party:

Steven Troy is sad

“Wah! I want a new Haiku!”

Well here it is…jerk.

Eric’s response:

I fear you’ve hurt Steve

Ben is now the one with shame.

Ice encrusted heart!

Ben’s response:

I can feel no shame.

I sit beneath my shame tree

And think jerkish thoughts.

Regarding the proper taunting of your opposing team:


Migration issue

Server crashes silently

No ping, beeper cries

Frustrations abound

Salvation is in winning

Let’s beat I and O!


E. Dunton will play.

Softball without him would be

A wintry grave

Regarding the abandonment of sushi plans, a lonely hero, and his subsequent redemption:


Promises broken.

Ben eats his sushi alone

Sadness fills each bite.


Too little, too late

For Ben eats without Christine.

Tears fall with each bite.


Oh hell no, Eric.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Sushi on Wednesday.


Cecile and Stacey

Save me from a lonely lunch.

Sun shines through dark clouds.


Poets we all are

Collect all Haikus we must

Money to be made….


Altron rejected

Stacey and Cecile rescue sad Altron

Hero’s job is done.