It’s a Hops update or a “Hopsdate”.

As a parent I am used to seeing something I’ve nurture grow into something annoying. So I was half expecting to hear my mom tell me that my hops turned into in invasive plant that she sent to go live on a farm, much like my first dog Magic, some place where they both can run free in the sun through fields and chasing ducks….

Whoa, sorry….sort of veered off track for a second there. (Miss you Magic)

Any who, last we saw our two friends, Jerk David and Bernie, they were being tranPlanted from a couple of pots from my townhouse backyard to the oasis that is my parent’s garden. Today I finally had the time to see them….um…that is the hops of course. I am proud to say that both plants are doing excellent and I’m sure my parents are fine as well.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Not surprisingly, both Jerk David and Bernie have been enjoying their new surroundings and have grown over two feet since their move. Now I’m no gardener but I’m guessing it’s all that sunlight, rich soil, and rain they’ve received since moving in that has allowed them to flourish. That and they’re no longer sitting in pots surrounded by dog poop bags.

They have even begun climbing.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

I think I am way more excited about the hops starting to climb then when either of my kids started climbing things. Granted the only things my kids climbed were stairs, bookshelves, or coffee tables and while that can be exciting it’s a different kind of excitement. Actually, it’s more of excitement mixed with frustration with just a dab of terror.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

With my hops plants though I have no fear.  It is all hope and anticipation.

Soon the trellis will be complete allowing them to grow to their full potential.  Ahh, Much like my own children while I look forward to their future I am reveling in their present beauty….

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Cheers!

Ray

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Shiner Ruby Redbird – a love story

One of my favorite activities during the Spring/Summer months is firing up the grill and inviting friends over for dinner.  While I love all my friends…without a doubt my favorite friends are those that bring over beer.  This is exactly how I stumbled upon my current favorite summertime beer, Shiner Ruby Redbird.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Like many Friday nights my wife decided that we were in need of adult conversation to go along with our dinner. In order for that to happen it required the presence of our neighbors and the disappearance of our children.  When the neighbors arrived they were kind enough to bring over one of those do-it-yourself six packs from the local grocery store.  Personally I love the do-it-yourself six packs of beer.  It is such a great concept for beer lovers who can try 6 different beers, from different styles, from different breweries, from different countries in one purchase.  There are only two minor problems with a DIY six pack:

  1. What if someone needs a beer but you all you have is your DIY six pack of 6 beers that you spent 45 minutes picking out at Wegmans and now you have to give one away. What if the beer you give that person is the best beer of the batch?  How would you know…you’ve never tried these before.  GAAHHH! I’m stressed out just thinking about this.
  2.  More frequently though I have had the issue of discovering a new beer that I love but with each sip realizing that this is the only one of these beers in my house.  It’s one of those weird conundrums where I am both extremely happy and sad at the same time.

Like I said, these are minor and some what insane problems.

Moving along…

Now I can’t remember what the other five beers in the DIY six pack were because I had one of those moments in a beer drinker’s life that stops them cold.  I grabbed the Shiner without giving the label a glance or really the beer much thought and took a swig.  I actually stopped mid-swig in order to double check that I was drinking a beer. Immediately I tasted the citrusy sweetness and was surprised to see that this was a grapefruit beer.  Now having just recently tried my first grapefruit beer the other day I was surprised by Redbird’s sweetness.  Grapefruits for me have never been part of my go to fruits.  Growing up they were always a symbol of my mom starting a diet.  Every morning it would be some sort of combination of grapefruit, dry toast, and perhaps a hard boiled egg.  Plus the fact that grapefruit has always been a tad tart for me I was surprised  shocked to discover how much I was enjoying this beer.

My ignorance toward Ruby Red grapefruits goes to show you that I have never been to Texas before.  The Texas Ruby Red grapefruits, which Shiner proudly boasts Ruby Redbird is made from, are so important to Texas that they were named the state fruit.  After doing some research (Google/Wikipedia) I learned that Ruby Red grapefruit are actually the result of a mutation that occurred in 1929 on a single tree in the Rio Grande Valley.  The introduction of the Ruby Red was credited for transforming the grapefruit into an agricultural success. Not surprisingly the Ruby Red was also the first ever recipient of  a patent ever awarded to a grapefruit.

[SIDE NOTE: If you’re wondering why when you click on the word ‘mutation’ above you get a YouTube video of the Top 10 Cute Cat Moments is because originally I was going to link a clip from the end of the anime classic Akira where Tetsuo transforms into the mutant blob but after watching it I got sort of grossed out so I’m cleansing my mind with some cute cat videos.  END OF SIDE NOTE]

Now don’t let me get carried away with singing the praises of Ruby Red grapefruits as there is still another important ingredient in the Redbird that is not to be overlooked.  To quote the Shiner website the Ruby Redbird is finished “with a ‘lil kick of ginger”. I believe it is this addition of ginger that adds to the overall crispness of the beer while at the same time paring it very well with the citrus from the grapefruit.  If you know me at all you know that I love me some crisp beer.  It is by far one of my favorite adjectives that I seek out in a beer.

Shiner Ruby Redbird is the perfect summer beer to be enjoyed outside while working on a grill or working on a tan.  Everyone that I have introduced this beer to has both been surprised by the taste and in love with the flavor. I discovered Redbird out of pure luck but now I notice (and buy) it in every grocery store in the area.  This is a great lesson about keeping your eyes open to your beer surroundings and of course the value of picking up a do-it-yourself six pack (or two) every now and then.

Cheers,
Ray

Once more into the breach, beer friends, once more…”

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“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”

The first 20 seconds of this clip from “Henry V” captures exactly how excited I was to start my second home brew batch.

After the relative success of my first batch of home brew I have been looking forward to mixing up my next one. Luckily I knew exactly the type of beer I wanted to brew, a Belgian Tripel.  Now my personal experience with Tripel’s is not particularly extensive and to be completely honest the two reasons why I chose this style of beer is because:
A) It was classified as ‘Easy’ on the kit I bought.
B) I really enjoyed New Belgium’s Trippel Style Ale.

I know I know there are obviously dozens if not hundreds of Tripels I should/need to try. Have no fear. Trust me with the variety of beer I drink I have total faith that I will get to them all eventually (feel free to leave suggestions in the comments and I’ll start with those first).

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Like I mentioned earlier I purchased a kit from the always helpful My Local Home Brew  Store (MLHB).  For my first batch a kit was put together for me. This time around I went with one of the Brewer’s Best kits I saw at MLHB.  I highly recommend these kits for beginners like myself.  They are around $50 but contain everything you will need with easy to follow instructions.  I imagine these are the types of kits n00b homebrewers (me) use to get their proverbial feet wet.  I can see after a few more batches, when a homebrewer gets much more confident, that they would prefer to be a little more creative.  With only one batch under my belt I am not at that point yet.

So, time to christen my brand new 3 gallon pot and let’s get started…

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

This first great thing about this kit was it allowed me to try something new in my brewing career.  I had the opportunity to use my first grain bag filled with crushed grains to create wort.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

I brought my water to the recommended wort steeping temperature of 150º – 165ºF…

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

…and much like a cup of tea just added the bag of crushed grains into the water.  It is important to make sure that all the grains are saturated within the grain bag.  I let the grain bag steep for 20 minutes.

While my wonderful wort is working it’s wagic…I mean magic I took a look at the rest of my ingredients.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

First thought:  I had one of those “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” moments concerning all these ingredients and my 3 gallon pot.  No wonder this comes in a kit I can’t imagine as a n00b brewer trying to put this together.  In my first home brew I dealt only with dried malt extract but today I had the pleasure of working with both the dried stuff as well as the liquid malt extract.  Well, liquid might be a stretch.  If you’ve never worked with pure malt extract a word of advice.  Before you open it and try and add it to anything run the containers over some hot water for a few minutes.  If you do then it’s like pouring syrup into your pot.  If you don’t than it’s like trying to pour Nutella into your pot.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

I also had two new ingredients to play with:
Blanc Soft Sugar (White)
Maltodextrin.

I googled Blanc Soft Sugar (White) and the top five links all had the exact same definition word for word.

Blanc is a white Belgian Soft Candi Sugar ideal for Tripels, Saison and Bière de Garde or anywhere increased gravity is required.

Wikipedia tells me that Maltodextrin is also used in the brewing process for beer to increase the specific gravity of the beer….so it’s got that going for it.  Maltodextrin also…

improves the mouthfeel of the beer, increases head retention and reduces the dryness of the drink. Maltodextrin has no flavor and is not fermented by the yeast, so does not increase the alcohol content of the brew.

Hey, who doesn’t like their beer to have good mouthfeel?  Umm…errr…anyways, moving along…

By now my wort was ready and I gently lifted the grain bag out and let the excess wort goodness drip back into the pot.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Now that I have created my first wort I happily mixed in my dried malt extract (3 bags), pure malt extract (2 containers), a bag of Blanc Soft Sugar, and of course our mouthfeel friend Maltodextrin.

[SIDE NOTE:]  If I have another son I am going to lobby my wife to name him Maltodextrin.  He sounds like a super hero.  I AM MALTODEXTRIN!  BEWARE EVIL DOER OF MY MIGHTY MOUTHFEEL AND INCREASED HEAD RETENTION!!…..Hmm, perhaps I haven’t thought this through.  [END OF SIDE NOTE]

After stirring in all the above ingredients we have our wonderful cauldron of brew.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

After an hour of gently boiling the time came to add our hops.  The kit came with two different hops:
Northern Brewer (1 oz)
UK Golding (o.5 oz)

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

This is what the BeerAdvocate.com told me about these hops:

Northern Brewer: Northern Brewer is a bittering-type cultivar, bred in 1934 in England from a Canterbury Golding female plant and the male plant OB21. Northern Brewer has been used in the breeding process of many newer varieties. This cultivar is grown in England, Belgium, Germany and the USA. A strong fragrant hop with a rich rough-hewn flavor and aroma, ideal for steam-style beers and ales. Northern Brewer has a unique mint-like evergreen flavor. (alpha acid: 8.0-10.0%/ beta acid: 3.0-5.0%)

UK Golding: Golding is a group of aroma-type cultivars originating in England. U.K. Goldings, which are grown in such parts as Kent, Worcestershire, Hampshire and Herefordshire. This is a premier English aroma hop. Superb in English-style ales, and lend a unique character to fine lagers as well. This hop has a unique spicy aroma and refined flavor. (alpha acid: 4.0-6.0% / beta acid: 2.0-3.0%)

With the hops added it was time to cool down my brew.  I tried a new technique to cool down the brew this time.  Instead of what I did last time which consisted of me taking a temperature every half an hour to see if it cooled on its own I filled my sink with ice and dropped the pot into the ice cold water.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

[SIDE NOTE:]  When trying out this method it is a good idea to purchase some ice for this specific task so not to use all the ice in your freezer’s ice machine.  This is especially important if you are having people over later that day and everyone only gets a single ice cube.  [END OF SIDE NOTE]

Hey, you know what’s a great thing to do when you’re waiting for your brew to cool?  Why have a beer.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

One of my new favorite summer beers.  You can read my review here.

{{{time travel noise}}}

Okay, it’s impossible to siphon beer from the pot into my sterilized fermenting bucket and take pictures of it so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I finished up my batch by taking a gravity measurement, adding the yeast, and finally sealing my new best friend up.  Here he rests snug as a bug under my stairs patiently waiting to be awoken in a couple of weeks.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

See you again during bottling!

– Ray