Zombie Jesus 2010

That magical time of year was upon us again.  The day when Jesus rose from the grave to…make children look for chocolate eggs…laid by rabbits…or something.  I don’t know, its a very confusing holiday to celebrate.  Regardless, it also happens to be the time of year where we buckle down, wash out the turkey fryer and begin that most ancient and wondrous magic of turning a pile of ordinary grain into a tasty elixir that bestows attractiveness and self-confidence.

Last year’s Zombie Jesus was a rousing success, and I find myself getting far more requests for this beer than I have in supply.  Next year, we might buy some extra equipment and try brewing a double batch to give us some more bottles to sell to friends and family.  This year, I feel like I’ve promised most of my supply away before I even had a chance to crack open a bottle.  Speaking of which, I finally cracked one open tonight a little ahead of schedule and am generally pleased with the results.  I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so while I feel like we still have a ways to go before we’ve got the recipe where I want it to be, we’re definitely making progress.  I think the hop combination we have right now is about perfect.  The smell is absolutely phenomenal, and surprisingly reminiscent of Dogfish Head 90 min, one of my favorite IPAs.  However, we’re still under-malted in my opinion.  The feel of the beer is still lighter than I’d like and less alcoholic than I’d prefer (still not bad at around 6.5%).   But I’m being picky and opened it a little ahead of schedule.  Some more bottle conditioning will likely do this beer good.

Still, I’m impressed we made the move from an extract recipe to all-grain while still improving on the original model.  The conversion went much smoother this time around, as did the hopping.  Next time around I would consider upping the malt even more as well, controlling the temp better for the step mash, adding some munich or vienna, maybe a touch of chocolate malt, and adding  some sugar to up the alcohol.  All bitching aside though, I think this is a solid beer and I’m proud to have made it.

This time through I decided to play around with a yeast starter.  I’m actually kinda embarrassed that I didn’t know to do it before now, however in my research into all grain IPAs, I found them mentioned all over the place and decided to look into it.  Turns out for high gravity beers, it is highly recommended to start your yeast culture going about a day ahead of time.  Unfortunately for me, I discovered this information exactly one day in advance and had to seriously improvise on equipment, while freaking out about the possibility of me killing our culture of yeast a day before brewing.

First, let me tell you how it should be done.   You should take the DME and water and mix it in the sanitized 2 liter Erlenmeyer flask you have bought weeks ahead of time, because you knew this was going to be a step in the process.  Then you should heat the Erlenmeyer flask over the stove until it’s boiling, then let it cool.  Afterwards you will pitch the yeast into it, then seal it with an airlock and stopper that you have also purchased, designed to fit the flask.  Then you let the CO2 bubble out through the airlock, confident that no oxygen or bacteria is getting in.  Of course I had no flask, stopper or airlock, so I took some the the DME I had, mixed it with water, brought it to a boil and then let it cool for a bit before pouring it ever so gently through a sanitized coffee filter holder into a sanitized 2 liter of Shasta.  Afterwards, I ever so carefully pitched the yeast into the Shasta bottle and sealed it with the bottle cap, delicately cracked open to let CO2 out.  Anyway, it worked out fine, and the next day I woke up to find it magically bubbling away.

Onto the brewing.  We happened to brew on the most gorgeous Black Friday in recent history.  After work, I hastily sealed up the yeast starter, put my equipment in the car and rushed over to Diego’s so that we could hopefully finish our operation before midnight.  We are joined by brewing apprentice, Troll.  The man knows his beer quite well and already has a passing familiarity with the home brewing process, so we are confident he will be a journeyman before too long.  We talk about logistics for a bit (where the mash tun will go, where we’ll brew, etc), crack open some beer, and then get down to the business of cleaning.  The whole process is much easier in general with a 3rd person.  I soon realize I have forgotten the hops at home on the south side, a regrettable error when going about the business of making an IPA or any kind of beer for that matter, but my beautiful fiancee once again comes to the rescue.  Once we’re done cleaning, we set up the equipment and begin brewing.  The step mash does not follow the steps that we want it to, but alas as Diego says, “The Cajun Bayou is not a precision instrument.”  We end up getting the conversion we want at the length of time we want in something more akin to an infusion mash.  Everything else seems to go fairly well until we realize we need a hose for the counterwortflow chiller and none can be found.

Diego and I then make an educated decision to steal someone else’s hose.  You see, most people are not expecting some jerk to come along and take their hose.  So, hose security is understandably lax.  After nervously scouting a few houses, we eventually decide on one with a fairly portable length of hose and I go about the business of detaching it.  Diego is on lookout and does a rather poor job, because as I leave the house with a length of hose coiled around my arm, a cop car drives past on the street.  Anyway, my criminal doings go unnoticed by the CPD and we proceed back with the bounty.

Troll manages the boil quite nicely adding hops at regular intervals and we smell the powerful aroma that they release.  Eventually, we get to the point where we transfer it into the hopback and prepare to make use of the counter-wortflow chiller.  Now it should be mentioned that I seriously am in need of better hosing attached to the counter-wortflow chiller as one length of hose is all but melted from the last time it was used.  We hook everything up and begin the process of draining, but the flow gets stuck due to the weak hose.  While we’re fiddling with it, the hose comes loose and my hand is blasted with boiling water for a few seconds while I hastily try to shut off the flow and fix the connection.  Eventually we fix it and carefully manage the flow down into the carboy.  The rest goes according to plan, we pitch the yeast with the yeast starter and seal up the carboy.  Fermentation happens beautifully.  So I pile a mountain of aloe onto my burned hand and go home content in the knowledge that Zombie Jesus has been brewed and in a months time or so I can taste the results.

Here are the steps we followed along with some comments on the process:


·         15 lbs Pale Ale 2-row (Breiss)

·         1 lb caramel 60L Breiss (caramel/crystal specialty grains

·         1 oz Simcoe pellets

·         1 oz Warrior pellets

·         2 oz Amarillo hop plug packages

·         1 oz glacier leaf hops

·         Northwest Ale Activator Wyeast

·         1 tsp gypsum

·         ½ tsp irish moss


1.       Day in advance prepare 2L Yeast starter

2.       Sanitize all equipment to touch beer

3.       In large pot add 1 tsp gypsum to 4 gallons of water and raise temp to 145 (this can be done while sanitizing other equipment)

4.       Set up lauter-tun system

5.       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. (Fat chance.  Temp stabilized at around 155.)

6.       Begin boiling additional water (8 quarts worth)

7.       After the 30 min at 133, add the additional 8 quarts of boiling water to raise the temp to between 150-155 and hold for 45 min. (Raised temp to around 160 -165)

8.       Raise temp to 158 for 10-15 min

9.       Raise temp to 167, then filter out into lauter-tun system

10.   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. 

11.   Begin draining from lauter-tun to pot below.  Begin water flow from cooler to lauter-tun.  Adjust rate as needed

12.   Bring to a boil, add warrior pellets

13.   Add 1 amarillo hop plug after 15 min of boil and then again every 15 min for 3 hop plugs in total

14.   Boil total for 60 or 90 min? (Probably boiled for around 75-90 min)

15.   5 min before finish add ½ oz simcoe pellets and glacier hops as well as ½ tsp irish moss (Only added the glacier hops, kept simcoe for dry-hopping)

16.   Pour through the hopback and add cold water if necessary to reach the appropriate water level.

17.   Pour in the yeast from the yeast starter

(OG: 1.06 FG 1.012)

Yay Zombie Jesus!

Concerning Beer Geekery

There is a beer renaissance going on in Chicago.  It seems like every new bar I go to, now boasts a cornucopia of belgiums, IPAs, imperial stouts and barley wines.  And I can’t tell exactly when it happened.  It seems like only yesterday, that 99% of the bars in Chicago offered the standard BudMillersCoors swill, along with a few obligatory imports, like Heineken or Guinness, to appease the “discerning” palate.

And there is a reason for the dominance of Bud and Millers in the American bar scene.  Both companies have saturated the airwaves with some of the most successful marketing campaigns in recent history.   In addition, both have both spent millions of dollars trying to convince people that their beer is the beer for disciminating tastes.  (Miller: “Our beer is triple-hopped.”  Bud: “Our beer has superior drinkability.”) Miller even claims that they won the award for “Best American-Style Light Lager” in 2007, which is a joke in and of itself.  None of our major American breweries would ever win in a general lager competition, so a new category had to be invented for shitty beers to compete with one another.

Anyway, at some point in time, a growing minority of people decided to drink beer that tasted good, rather than beer that was mildly drinkable if served at arctic temperatures.  Eventually, more and more places popped up featuring extensive beer lists comprised of a  variety  styles from around the world.    Even better, some of these places have reached out to American breweries to host different events if they happen to be in town.  So I was thrilled to hear that the craft brewing conference was coming to Chicago in April, and bringing a bunch of beer geek events along with it.

Stone Brewery has been making appearances all over the Chicagoland area since the start of April.  I’d been dying to get out to one, since they make some high quality beer, including an excellent strong ale (Arrogant Bastard Ale), as well as a very solid IPA (their Ruination IPA).  A friend of mine had turned me on to their stuff rather recently, and I was very much looking forward to going to one of their events and sampling the full catalog.  In addition, Nick Floyd from 3Floyds and Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head were doing an event at the Bottom Lounge on a beautiful Tuesday night featuring 4 beers from each brewery along with some live music.

We’ll start with “Dogfloydapalooza.”  A friend of mine, Brian, decided to head on out there, which gave me an excuse to attend.  This was my first trip to Bottom Lounge and due to some fortuitous wizardry, I did not have to pay the $20 cover. Excellent.  Getting to the bar initially was a challenge, as it was mobbed by thirsty beer geeks.  However, I persevered and made an educated decision to end my 2-year boycott of 3Floyds.  I had already obtained my Dark Lord Day tickets for this year, thereby securing myself 12 tasty bottles of Dark Lord, and felt the boycott could finally come to a close.

On tap from Dogfish Head they had: the 90 min IPA, the india brown ale, the aprihop, and the raison d’etre.  In the 3floyds camp they had: Alpha King, Drunk Monk, Samurai Gazeebo, and something else I’m forgetting.  The Samarai Gazeebo was a pleasant surprise: a lager with japanese hops that was smooth, crisp, and hopped nicely.  The 90 minute from Dogfish Head remains my favorite IPA and their india brown ale is an excellent drink as well.

As the evening progressed, a round of Malort was ordered for some perverse reason and for some even more perverse reason, I had one.  So we hung out with some of Brian’s friends, drank some excellent beer, took turns blowing into a breathalyzer, and listened to a really solid blues band (Andre Williams and the Goldstars).   Andre Williams, at the age of 74, took the stage in a solid red suit and fedora and rocked it out in spectular fashion.  I’m pretty sure I heard a song called “Pussystank.”  Anyhow,  good times.  I’ll probably do it again next year

On Friday April 9th, I headed out to the Bastard’s night over at Reggie’s Music Joint with my fiancee, Susan, and our friends Carlos and Dana.  It was a Stone and Founders Brewery event with 10 beers on tap from each brewery.  Small pours and big pours of beer were offered  by each brewery, making it easy to taste a wide variety of the beers on hand without getting too trashed.  We grabbed a seat at one of the long tables in front of the stage and started drinking.

I find myself liking Arrogant Bastard more and more.  The balance between the strong malt and the bittering hops is excellent and the overall profile of the beer is aggressive and unique, although difficult to describe purely from memory.  However,  the star of the evening had to be the “Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.”  While technically a strong ale, the flavors are very reminiscent of an IPA, and it happens to be one of the best beers I’ve had in a while.  It has a beautiful malt and hop combination (simcoe,amarillo, and cascade I believe), and an excellent mouthfeel!  That evening, Stone cemented itself in my mind as a brewery to be reckoned with.

While we were drinking, we had a chance to listen to The Twin Cats, a funk/jazz band from Indiana.  They put on an absolutely kickass set, and left me a little disappointed that they don’t have any more shows in our area for a while.  When I went up to the bar to get a drink, some guy pegged me as a beer geek based on the two beer lists in my hand.  He gave me a Stone Brewing DVD and introduced himself, at which point I realized I was talking with one of the founders of the Stone Brewery, Greg Koch.  I’m glad he approached me, because I didn’t do my homework and had no idea what he would look like.

Greg is a genuinely cool guy, who was very much at ease talking with me and the many other beer geeks in attendance.  We hung out for a while and he took a picture of us both, which I’m hoping I get a copy of, since taking pictures with my phone is a baffling ordeal.  You see, due to the dim lighting I would have had to first turn on the flash, which is so bright it would have cooked us both internally.  Secondly, we would have had to pose perfectly still for about a minute or so in order to get a picture not blurred beyond recognition.  This was not something I was willing to put a perfect stranger through, so we’ll see how things go.

We finished off the evening over at Piece, a place with some excellent pizza and really great homebrew.  I awoke the next day with a hangover of epic proportions and a receipt in my pocket that brought tears to my eyes, but still had a great time.  I like the idea of a craft beer month in Chicago.   Lets make that happen next year.

**** UPDATE ****

I saw that Greg uploaded pictures from his time in Chicago onto the Stone website and was pleased to find the picture of he and I among them. Furthermore, a little bit ago I recently received a package at work from Stone Brewery containing the picture he took of us, signed by him.  What a class act.  So Stone, you guys now have a superfan and Stone evangelist here in Chicago.  I’m drinking an Arrogant Bastard as I give this update and thank you for bringing your delicious beer to town.



Fun With The Dead

I have walked with the dead.

A horror collectible store in Berwyn named Horrorbles, got X amount of free tickets to hand out for “zombies” to attend the Zombieland Chicago red carpet premiere.  Side note: if you’re ever in the market for anything horror related, be it zombie makeup, authentic freddy krueger gloves, giant scary clowns, etc.  this is probably your one stop shop.  Go buy stuff from Kryssie, she rocks.  Lucky for my girlfriend and I, I knew Kryssie from high school, and she graced us with two tickets to go to the event as zombies.

So after doing a little homework on the subject, I came up with my lazy how-to guide for getting zombified.

  1. Get a suit from a thrift store, the more out of date the better.  Don’t spend too much money
  2. Go drag that fucker through the mud and rough it up
  3. With an exacto knife or something, shred the bottom of the pants a bit so that it looks tattered, do the same with the sleeves.
  4. Puncture wounds and fake blood are optional.
  5. Be fortunate enough to have an onsite makeup crew handle your makeup for you. (I know nothing about this crap.)

That was pretty much how I got ready to go.   Most people did their own makeup, and some got really creative with it.  Horrorbles actually has classes on Latex and special effects makeup, so I’ll probably go for a course, since I probably won’t have a makeup team on hand the next time I think about doing this.

So we arrive, get registered, and are herded into a pen where we are to wait on makeup.  People who already were in makeup basically just hung out and grabbed at passing cars and pedestrians.  Eventually I get my makeup on and do my fair share of groaning and swiping at passing traffic.  Eventually, it’s go time and we all line up and shamble down the red carpet while some people snap pictures.  Susan and I get past the carpet, head upstairs and take our seats.  Woody Harrellson comes on out before the film and says a few words.  He tells us that he’s really a zombie fan deep down, and was just in character for the film.  We let it slide.  The movie comes on and happens to rule.

After the movie, Susan has to go home and pass out, but I head on out to the after party at Villains.  Villains has a great selection of burgers, and an impressive beer list to boot, although from my past few visits I’m less than impressed with the speed and attentiveness of the bartending staff.   Still its a nice place, that attracts a group of south side regulars who frequent the place and seem pretty cool.  I meet people quickly enough, as I order a scotch and the two other scotch drinking zombies quickly take note of my order.  I sit and talk for a while with them.  The girl is a bartender there at Villains but was also out at the show, and the guy is really nice and one of the regulars there.  Anyway we hang for a while, buy each other a couple beers and eventually I head on out home and bury my zombie clothes in a bag for another time.

I’ve been bitten.  It can now only be a short amount of time before I lose control and stagger down the streets of Chicago in search of brains or a decent zombie pub crawl.

Falling down Ashland

I cannot escape Ashland.

I have moved three times in this city already, each time to a new neighborhood and I’m always within a few blocks of Ashland.  Now, I’ve made the trek all the way to the south side, throwing all caution and familiar surroundings to the wind and….oh wait.. there’s Ashland.

That being said, I moved to Pilsen.  A self-avowed lifetime Northsider has picked up and moved to a neighborhood I know next to nothing about, despite the fact that most of my friends and favorite haunts are littered across the north side.  Anchored by trusty Ashland, I decided to plant myself somewhere completely new in this great big city and force myself to explore it.  So far, I am very happy.  We managed to find a gorgeous loft space just in our price range, and are loving living in this neighborhood.

From my time here exploring so far, here are some things I can recommend if you find yourself down here, in my neck of the woods.

1. Try one of the amazing Mexican restaurants around the area.  I shamefully have only tried a couple so far, but they have proved to be excellent.  Neuvo Leon is rated the best Mexican option in Chicago on Citysearch based on a variety of factors and I can see why.  The region they cook from uses lard in their cooking, so the food is heavy, but delicious.  There is also a meat market right next door which they get their food from, so its real fresh.  Top it off with the fact that they are open from 7 am to 11pm and their food is very affordable and you have a winning combination.  I’ve also found myself going to Perez lately, another restaurant on 18th street, which is excellent.  Their fare seems much lighter, they make their own corn tortillas and also get their meat very fresh from a meat market they’re associated with.  They have a fantastic chipotle salsa and their diablo sauce has made a return customer out of me.

2. Between 18th and Cermak on Halsted is the Chicago Arts District.  On 2nd Fridays of the month, they open their doors and people can wander in and out of the various galleries on the street.  The National Museum of Mexican Art is also in the area just a little off the pink line on 18th and is supposed to be excellent.  I haven’t made it out to this yet, but its on the list of things to do.

3.  Check out two of the local bars, Skylark and Simone’s.  Skylark looks like a total dive bar.  It’s on the corner of Cermak and Halsted, the decor inside is far from impressive, but it does have that artistic cool, a photo booth and all the chairs are comfy and look like stuff picked up from an estate sale.  In addition, they have some really cheap beer, and really good beer for cheap.  I saw some decent craft beers on their beer list and recall none of them being more than $5.  The biggest surprise there, however, was that they have an impressive food selection.  I’ve never been to a dive bar before that served creme brulee on occasion.  When we went, my girlfriend had a caprese salad with sea scallops which she enjoyed.  I had the burger and tater tots and was satisfied with the results.  Simone’s is on the other end of the spectrum.  You’re definitely gonna find yourself dropping more money here.  On the other hand, the place is incredibly well designed with each aspect of the bar carefully thought out and crafted from the artwork to every creative piece of furniture and decoration that they adorn the place with.  They offer good craft beer and decent food.  The bartender I met on the first night we went there was really cool and knowledgeable too.  The most interesting thing about Simone’s for me, was that it really looks like a diamond in the rough.  I had no idea that a bar with an interior like that was sitting on 18th not too far from two huge empty lots and walking into it was a very pleasant surprise and feels like a hidden secret.

4. Go to Heart Of Italy.  I’m not talking about Little Italy on Taylor street.  Well…go there too, but you were already probably planning on it, or have been there at some point.  Heart of Italy is really tucked away in Heart of Chicago.  If you have the chance, take a drive down to 24th and Oakley and you will find a small piece of Italy tucked away.  That stretch of Oakley has about 4 or 5 great little Italian restaurants all in the same block and serving some excellent, authentic Italian food at a reasonable price.  I’ve dined at Bruna’s Restaurante and Ignotz, and would highly recommend them both.  When bringing the parents to Ignotz they were suitably impressed, as was I, with the service and food.  My only regret is that I filled up on so much bread, but it simply can’t be helped.  They make the stuff fresh for each table.  We ordered a fried calamari appetizer which was lightly breaded and out of this world, and also a caraffe of the house wine, which was a fine compliment to the meal.  While my baked mostaccioli was good,  the stuffed gnocchi my girlfriend ordered was phenomenal and will probably be my next order at that place when we return.

5. Check out the surrounding areas.  It’s close to Little Italy, Greektown, Chinatown, downtown and a bunch of south loop and west loop stuff.  I plan on checking out more of the west loop in the near future as it’s still pretty foreign to me and there seem to be a lot of great restaurants and galleries in that area.  In the south loop you can find Villains, which makes several great burgers and has a cool group of regulars there who all seem to know each other.  Cobra lounge isn’t too far away, over by Lake and Ashland, and also has some affordable food and drinks.  In addition, they have live bands and burlesque shows playing there occasionally.  Another place with live music in the area is Reggie’s Music Joint on State st, near Cermak.  I haven’t tried the food there, but it seems like a decent music venue and they generally have several bands taking the stage in a given night.  If you want to go to a sports bar for a Bears game, I can definitely recommend Kroll’s on 18th and Michigan, which boasts a pretty extensive beer list and some excellent butter burgers.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about being down here so far is the proximity to everything.  For shopping, at Roosevelt and Canal there is a Whole Foods, PetSmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Dominicks, Walgreens, Michaels, Staples, and probably more than I’m forgetting.  Target is around Roosevelt and Clark.  Work is a short el ride away.  Plus, getting smashed in the loop will not end in a long and expensive cab ride home to the edge of the northside.

Pilsen, we might be here a while.

Zombie Jesus and Friends

The writing muscles have seized up.  Atrophy sets in, then inconsistent sentence structure.  Poor subject/verb agreement soon follow and eventually all you’re left with, is a mass of run on sentences that vaguely describe an event that occurred over four months ago.  Oh well, fuck it.

Anyway, I figured it was time to sit down and start writing again before I pile up any more crap that’s worth writing about.  One such noteworthy accomplishment, that was missed during the many nights of working overtime and drinking at bars, was the inception of Zombie Jesus.

Zombies are kinda in vogue right now for some reason.  I’ve never really been much of a zombie guy, preferring instead to spend my time at the other end of the horror archetype spectrum with the vampires.  I guess zombies never really freaked me out because I figured I could always think my way out of a zombie outbreak.  Typically, zombies are slow, stupid, and you’re only really in a jam if you decide to hole up in an enclosed area that’s difficult to get out of without wading through a multitude of them.  In the event of a zombie attack, I might consider going camping, or a road trip to the nearest military base.

Anyhow, they’ve grown on me a bit as of late.  As a friend mentioned to me, the scary thing about zombies is: “it’s your friends and family.”  Hmm. Fair enough.  Also, while vampires almost embody “Cool” by definition, it will always be way cooler to get made up as a zombie in your free time than go the vampire route.  You see, no matter how cool your vampire outfit may be, it will inescapably be pretentious on some level, to dress up as one.  Sorry.  And this comes from someone who has dressed up as a vampire before…several times.

So, getting a little closer to the point, zombie pub crawls have been sprouting up all over the place over the last few months.  It’s an opportunity for people to get all gored up and wander the streets of Chicago, or their hometown, getting so shitfaced that they can take the makeup off and still look like a zombie.  In short, it looks like a lot of fun.  So, Easter comes around and its time to make an imperial IPA.  Since we were brewing on the day Jesus supposedly raised from the dead, we decided to jump on the bandwagon and made a beer in honor of Zombie Jesus.

Here are the ingredients:



1 oz Simcoe pellets

1 oz Warrior pellets

2 oz amarillo hop plug packages

1 oz glacier leaf hops

1 lb caramel 60L LBreiss (caramel/crystal speciality grains)

1 lb pale ale malt

2 Breiss Gold Unhopped Liquid Malt Extract

1 Bress Amber Unhopped Liquid Malt Extract

1 Northwest Ale Activator Wyeast SVY1332 4.25 oz



1.       Clean the fuck out of everything

2.       Steep speciality grains in 150-160 water for 30 min

3.       Strain into turkey pot

4.       Bring to boil, add warrior pellets

5.       Add 1 amarillo hop plug after 15 min of boil and then again every 15 min for 3 hop plugs in total

6.       Avoid pigeon’s crapping in your boiling wort if at all possible.

7.       5 min before finish add ½ oz simcoe pellets and glacier hops as well as ½ tsp irish moss

8.       Add cold water, until wort is at the 5 gallon mark and strain through hopback into the fermenter.

9.       Pitch yeast

10.   Shake carboy vigorously attempting to free it from the bucket it is now stuck in

11.   Give up on the prospect of dislodging the carboy from the bucket and move both into a dark corner.

OG: 1.08    FG: 1.015    ABV: Around 8%

We probably didn’t oxidize the beer as much as we should have.  So ultimately we ended up racking the beer twice in order to give it extra time for the yeast to process the sugars.  The end result was very decent.  We probably ended up with a little more yeast in the bottle than I would have liked and we probably could have either added extra malt or less hops to create a better balance.  However, when all is said and done, it is probably the best beer we’ve made so far.  Many many thanks to Nick for making us the kick ass label.

Onwards to the Pils.

Vesuvius Erupts!! No one flees in terror!

I know, the title of this post is lame, but I couldn’t help myself.

Anyway, Vesuvius is born.


We waited about 3 weeks before opening a bottle since we were using DME to carbonate. From everything I’ve read, that takes longer to finish the carbonation process if using DME instead of corn sugar.  Anyway, we didn’t chill the first bottle we opened for very long and decided to open it while sitting on my fellow brewer’s couch.  Well, it turns out our beer was very aptly named because upon opening the bottle it fizzed like a bottle of champaign all over my pants and a little on Diego’s couch and floor.  About half of the bottle seemed to be left at the end of this disaster so we all had a glass.  First impression was decent.  No yeasty bite to it and the flavor profile seemed right on target for a porter, perhaps in the Anchor Steam Porter tradition.

I put the rest of the bottles in plastic ziplock bags and put them in the fridge in order to slow any further carbonation and help minimize a mess in the event of the bottle bursting.  However, it appears that my concerns have been unfounded so far.  I’ve opened two more bottles since the first eventful debut of Vesuvius and am not getting any more disasters so far.  It seems to open normally (although I open it slowly over the sink now just in case.)  The flavor and drinkability of this beer on my second and third porter has vastly improved and I’m pretty impressed with this effort.  The beer has good carbonation, an excellent head on the beer, a nice sharp slightly bitter porter feel with good drinkability.  I don’t detect any unpleasant aftertaste or “homebrew” smell although the dark flavors would probably mask that in any event.

Next time through we should probably be more careful with using DME in order to prevent future overcarbonation.  But all in all, I’m very impressed with this beer and hope our efforts continue to improve.

Bottling Vesuvius

Vesuvius Porter.  Even now it is conditioning in the bottles, getting ready for its glorious rebirth as a finished beer.  Friday night we completed our second foray into all-grain brewing.  We prepared the priming solution by mixing dried malt extract (approximately 1 cup) in 2 cups of water and then boiling it for 10 minutes.  We then allowed it to cool to room temperature and poured it into the bottom of the bucket that was to be contain the beer during its intermediary stage between the carboy and the bottles.  We then drained the beer from the carboy to the bucket, mixed the beer with the priming solution, and siphoned it into 19 waiting 22 oz bottles.  Susan made the labels which we put on and then put the beers in an out of the way, dark place.

Now all of our stuff is cleaned, and our second beer batch has been wrapped up and all the equipment is put away.  All that remains is to wait the 3 weeks to try a bottle.  I definitely have high hopes for this batch.  This time we adhered to the Reinheitsgebot by using the dried malt extract in place of corn sugar, so our only ingredients were malted barley, hops, water, and yeast.  I’m not sure if we’ll taste the difference too much, but it was fun to do as a matter of pride.  Final gravity was 1.012.  Right on the mark.  I look forward to enjoying this batch on Halloween.  Here are some pictures of the bottling

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.

Indie Rock Speed Dating in Grant Park


I love Lollapalooza in Grant Park.  While Lolla has a way to go to really be the music festival it has the potential to be, it’s certainly off to a great start.  You have a number of new bands along with a couple good old ones, playing one after another against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline.  While I mainly came to Lollapalooza to see Rage and Nine Inch Nails, I probably enjoyed myself the most when wandering around and discovering new acts, drinking beer with friends and taking in the beautiful view.

My utter unfamiliarity with the majority of the bands playing at Lollapalooza this year almost made me title this post, “Lollapalooza ’08: Making You Feel Old and Out of Touch, One Indie Rock Band at a Time.”  However, I felt that would be too negative a title, since I ultimately found a lot of new music that I enjoyed and had fun reading up on bios and planning our schedule accordingly.

My biggest complaint is that the beer hall, “Lederhosen,” only demonstrates the utter unfamiliarity that the American party promoters have with German beer and beer halls.  First of all, the only “craft” beers they have there are Stella, Beck’s and 312.  Summerfest has got this beat big time.  If you want to go with the German beer hall thing, longer wooden tables would be more authentic along with a better variety of beer.

My girlfriend and I bought 3-day passes.  Here’s a log of my experience at the fest:


Arrived at 2:15 PM.  Stood in an enormous line trying to get in.  Showed up for Louis XIV at 3:15 PM.  I like their sound.   They have a kind of over the top glam-rock thing going, yet was intrigued.  “Finding out true love is blind,” was the song that stuck out to me in their set.  After that, we wandered over to see Gogol Bordello perform at 4:15.  They are a ton of fun to watch and gave a great performance!  They’re a type of gypsy punk band and I’d heard of them before.  Their energy and stage presence was fantastic and I found myself drinking, jumping and singing along where I could alongside a group of other people doing the same.  After they were done, my girlfriend and I met up with some friends and drank beer by the aforementioned, Lederhosen “authentic” German beer tent.  At 7:15 we went over to check out The Raconteurs who were ultimately forgettable to me, although to be fair I was already a little drunk by this point and unable to focus in depth.  We then went to go see Radiohead and I realized something while watching them.  I really don’t care about Radiohead.  At all.  I know a lot of other people swear up and down that they are the best band on Earth, but while I appreciate their sound I didn’t get excited watching them in concert.  There I said it.  Anyway, while searching for the bathroom I happened upon the “Artists Only” area which is reserved for the industry people.  I had to exit on the opposite side to use the bathrooms, but managed to intentionally sneak back in a second time when the guard was occupied.  Pretty cool stuff.  They have free drinks and a path to get a view from the stage.  Feeling guilty that I was now separated from my girlfriend who might never forgive me, I left in order to go find her.  Turns out she left to go find me, and wandered into the same Artists Area I had twice assailed.  Oops.  Goodbye Radiohead, I’m going to leave before you finish your set, because I honestly don’t care, I’m drunk, and I don’t think that guy at the VIP entrance is going to suspend his vigil yet again to provide me another chance to get inside.


Woke up with a killer hangover at 9:30 AM.  Time to move.  Got over to watch a Swedish metal band called Witchcraft play a thoroughly unimpressive variety of 1971 era metal.  Grabbed a couple of beers at 12:30 and was applauded by the group of beer sellers for doing so.  Apparently not many of these fest goers haven’t been hardened and tested with years of Summerfest drinking, like me.  Moved on down to watch,”Does it offend you, Yeah?”  Apparently it does not offend me.  It was a fun interesting show performed by a group of artists who were truly enjoying themselves, making some interesting electro-punk music that had me pleasantly surprised that there was something worth listening to at that hour of the day.  After this, we wandered to the opposite end of grant park to watch The Gutter Twins.  This band was also a real find.  They were self described in the bio as “the satanic Everly Brothers,” which initially piqued my interest.  The music they made was moody, brooding, and caught my ear instantly.  We found a good spot to watch the show and really enjoyed the performance.  After that much music in a row, I needed a break to hang out and reset my ear.  After sitting and drinking for a bit, we caught the end of the Booka Shade set.  They are a techno/synth group from Berlin who played some solid electrohouse.  It actually made me regret I didn’t catch more of their set.  Time to head on over for Brand New at the bigger stage on the south end of Lolla.  Listening…listening….  No, they suck.  Decided to move on down to the opposite end of the park to see the other band in the same time-slot, Explosions in the Sky, and meet up with some friends.  I gotta say, I liked the sound.  My ear was a little too tired at this point to soak it all in, but they were a thoroughly enjoyable instrumental rock band.  Started listening to Okkervil River before realizing that we were not into them at all.  Then, took time for relaxing and drinking beer while we waited to go see Battles.  Turns out we had some trouble marshaling the forces to get there in time for the show so we heard a bit of it from the tables while we all grabbed some food and waited for our friends.  Next, it was time to make our way to get early seats for the Rage Against The Machine show and listen to the Toadies from afar.  Rage was great.  The crowd got into it a lot.  The only bizarre part was the frequent stops the band had to take to instruct the crowd to back up, so as to not hurt each other.  I guess that’s the responsible thing to do and good for them, but it’s still a little weird hearing Zach La Rocha instructing the audience on proper crowd safety before launching into “Bullet in the Head.”  Regardless, damn good performance and everyone was pumped.


Barely woke up on time in order to get out the door.  Started off the day at 12:30 with Wild Sweet Orange.  My girlfriend wasn’t terribly impressed with this band, but I liked them.  They’re a fairly new band and aren’t typically what I listen to but I found myself really enjoying their music.  Several of their songs have a tinge of longing to them, and the multiple guitars give their music a nice layered quality.  I particularly liked the song, “Ten Dead Dogs.”  Then it was off to see The Weakerthans.  Oops, they’re not there.  And whoever is playing instead of them sucks.  Weak.  However, we caught John Butler Trio at 2:15.  I must say, very impressive instrumental guitar work.  The song “Ocean” in particular made the whole show worth watching.  We weren’t in love with any of the bands in the 3:15 time slot, so it was occupied with beer drinking and avoiding the sun.  At 4:15 Iron and Wine was playing.  I felt deceived by the Bio.  What was billed as a dark, intense brooding sound turns out to be more like Folk Music.  Maybe slightly sad folk music.  Boo.  And boohoo.  So we met up with some friends by the other main stage where they were watching G Love and Special Sauce(not really my thing either).  We then walked across the park again to see Flogging Molly, a fun Irish Celtic/punk band.  Love and Rockets played next.  Around this time I found my ear dying.  While I think I enjoyed listening to Love and Rockets, I find myself not able to really recall much of their set or that of the Nationals who played next.  I vaguely remember being pleasantly surprised by The Nationals.  Anyway, onto NIN.  Trent played even though he was sick, which I appreciated, but honestly NIN was a bit of a letdown this time through.  At least in comparison to other shows of theirs I’ve seen.  It probably didn’t help that I had to completely sober up by this point in the evening to be ready to drive home later.  Anyway, they added in some pretty long ambient stuff that didn’t seem to go anywhere or have a big payoff.  In addition, some of the remixes of the old stuff didn’t grab me (with the exception of “Closer”), and maybe I’m just not crazy about their newer songs.  Anyway, a lot of other people seemed to enjoy it so maybe it’s just me.

All in all, Lollapalooza was totally worth it.  Heard a lot of great music, had a lot of fun.  Lollapalooza ’09: here I come.

Wort? It’s sparged mash water!

I never thought I would ever be brewing beer.  How strange to be responsible for the creation of beer instead of just simply being its final resting place.  Thanks to my friend, Diego, I’ve mashed, I’ve sparged, and I’ve bottled.  We’re currently in the midst of our second batch.  The first batch he did by himself with just my assistance in the bottling of the finished product and of course with my hearty assistance in drinking it.

This second time through, I decided I wanted to be involved in the whole process.  So about a week ago we went ahead and dived headfirst into advanced brewmaking, guided by Diego’s reading on the subject and prior experience with the malt extract.  I’m sure we probably made some mistakes in the process, but hopefully we should end up with a decent batch of beer at the end of it all and a lot of learning experience.

Next time through, it might be worth investing in creating some equipment that is better suited to the tasks we put it to.  In particular, something to assist in the cooling of the hot beer wort before it is put into the open fermenter and the yeast is pitched.  It would also probably be helpful to build a lauter-tun of sorts to make the initial sparging a smoother process fraught with less peril and opportunities for me to drop the strainer into our beer wort.

Diego gave me a book titled, The Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian, which I have been avidly reading in order to make me a little more helpful in the whole brewing process.  For anyone interested in making their own beer, I’d highly recommend it.  Working on this whole process makes me want to invest in my own kit at some point in the future.  That way, our beer lifecycles can overlap a bit, we’ll have more opportunity to experiment with some different styles, and won’t have the same wait time for the next batch to come to fruition.

For more specific information on our beer brewing efforts and the other musings of Diego Lewis, they can be seen at his website:  www.diegolewis.com.