Monday, July 28, 2008

One month in 1000 words or less

I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted. Rather than give a bunch of excuses of why I haven't blogged, here's what I have been up to, and then I can hopefully get back on track:

More rafting and homebrewing on the horizon.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Off to the Snake River

Sorry for the lack of updates on the trip, I've been busy this week interviewing for a possible new job and been preparing for our seven day expedition on the Snake River through the Hell's Canyon section. When I return after the Independence Day holiday, I'll catch up with both trips. Enjoy the summer!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cali trip report - Part III

Day 6
After cleaning up our campsite and packing up the rig, we headed southwest from Foresthill and again through Sacramento. I managed to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a rest stop, which was as close to San Francisco as we'd come. Roughly 15 miles north of San Fran is the suburb of Novato, where Moylan's Brewery is located.

Moylan's Brewery
Kat had a classmate with a connection to Moylan's and thankfully he was able to get us in touch with Brendan Moylan, the owner of the brewery. After we sat and enjoyed a sampler of their fine brews, we met up with Brendan who gave us a brief tour of the brewery. We were impressed that everything is done right here at the brewpub in Novato, from brewing to kegging and bottling. the restaurant/pub is one side of the building, while the other is split into three floors that house the brewery. Brendan was great, and we really appreciated him taking time out to give us a personalized tour.

We took it fairly easy at Moylan's, since the plan was to visit two more breweries later in the day. From Novato we traveled north on US-101 just 15 miles to Petaluma, home to one of our favorite breweries, Lagunitas. I've been drinking their beer since before I met Kat, which was seven years ago. I had wanted to visit their headquarters for quite awhile and I was brimming with anticipation when we reached the city limits of Petaluma.

As we pulled into their driveway, I began to feel a bit unsettled. Unlike Moylan's, which has an inviting look from the outside with flags and enormous grain silos, Lagunitas was right in the middle of an industrial business park. We pulled into a parking spot and sat there, staring at what looked like a warehouse. Sure, there were kegs out front and employees wearing company t-shirts, but I couldn't help but think, "This? This is what I've been waiting years to come visit?" With some uncertainty, we exited the truck and walked over to the building. A sign pointed us away from the warehouse towards the office were we went to check in.

Lagunitas Brew Kettle
The front office was much more welcoming, with all kinds of memorabilia and framed news articles about the brewery on the walls. Stephanie welcomed us, and after waiting a few minutes for any others, we left the office to begin the tour. The tour started in the Lagunitas tasting room, where Stephanie began pouring 6oz tastes of each of their regular brews, not waiting for us to finish the previous ale. They were surprised at our knowledge of the brewery, and tried finding beers we hadn't already tasted. She did find one; the Hop Stoopid Ale, which is as the name suggests, an IPA with a ridiculous amount of hops. I managed to talk her into letting us take a bottle with us, which we'll save for some special occasion.

The tasting room was a comfortable loft that sits above the brewery. Lined with old couches, a Foosball table and a vintage upright piano, the room was very cozy and open to employees after their shift. Here we were able to get a few stories from Sean, the head bottler, who has been with the company for a long time. Stephanie poured us a final beer for the walk, and we went downstairs to tour the brewery. Lagunitas brews in 80 barrel batches (a barrel is equal to 15.5 gallons). This was an interesting contrast to Moylan's, which only brews 20 bbl. batches. The size of the operation was noticeably different, from the size of the brew kettles and fermenters to the bottling operation. The entire staff was very friendly, and if we had a question Stephanie couldn't answer, she'd pull over one of the brewers who would discuss it more in depth with us.

When the hour was up, we went back to the office and loaded up on souvenirs. It could've been the beer, but I left feeling very satisfied, even with the high expectations that comes with a build up of several years. We gave our thanks, and headed back up 101 to Santa Rosa.

We headed to our camp spot, a city park on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. After setting up the tent, we packed a backpack and walked a mile to catch the city bus into downtown. Russian River Brewery has a brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa, and we were determined to have pints of the Pliny the Elder that we brewed a homebrew version of months earlier. We started with a sampler, that included all of their currently available beers. It was almost a 50/50 split of American style and Belgian style ales. We did find a few beers that we liked from the sampler, but clearly the Pliny was our favorite. Russian River did have some great pizza as well. I have to thank them for our new favorite combination - pepperoni, pineapple and jalapenos (The jalapenos here were the spiciest I've had in a long time).

I have to say that Russian River didn't leave a great first impression. While we certainly enjoy the beer, the location of the pub catered more to a college age "meat-market" lifestyle. It seemed like all around us were young adults either on dates or their with their friends to try and meet others. The real downer is that they would not fill the growler we had brought with us, they required we bought one from them. Since they had already rung up beer, food and t-shirts, we figured we'd find some beer of theirs to take home from a grocery store instead (we never did). Besides, we'd need a few extra dollars to give the cabbie since he took us the long way back to camp - asshole.

Day 7
After clearing the cobwebs, we arose and got the hell out of Santa Rosa. A quick stop at a wifi cafe was needed; both for coffee and so I could fulfill my unemployment requirements. Another familiar brewery was nearby, in Healdsburg just 20 miles north.

Bear Republic Brewery
Bear Republic was what we had hoped last nights experience would have been. The staff was friendly, and the patrons were even friendlier. We ordered a sampler tray of 15 2oz tastes of their current brews. While we tasted some fantastic ales, we talked it up with a couple of locals. Bear Republic brews on the spot here (mostly their specialty beers) and at their brand new brewery further up the road in Cloverdale. They also had no problems with filling up our growler from home, so we made sure to take some of their fine ale with us.

We pushed on north, now eager to be in the Redwoods. It was really nice not to have to be in a rush, and we were able to take the scenic routes through the forests instead of staying on the main highway. These giant trees were unbelievable, and staggering at times to stand next to. We camped at Humbolt-Redwoods State Park with giant Redwoods in our campsite. On one of these trees was the remains of an insect. All that remained of what I think was a bee was it's exoskeleton, and I grabbed this cool picture of it.

Bee Macro shot

More to come!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cali trip report - Part II

Day 4
Sunday morning had a special feel to it when I awoke. This was a day of transition. Our focus so far had been on the wedding and group activities. Now we would venture on our own path and begin our California exploration.

Lance and Jacinda (the newlyweds) had planned for the group to gather for brunch, followed by a leisurely drive around Lake Tahoe and then onward to Reno. We would follow them for a portion of the drive around the lake, and would then separate and head to our reserved campsite. Brunch was decided to be at the Harrah's buffet, located on the top floor of the casino. We checked out of our hotel and drove the three blocks to the casino. The view was spectacular there, with a full vista of the lake and surrounding mountains from all of the windows. The food was less than stellar, as I've come to expect at buffets. Since the cost was $20 a head, everyone made sure to fill up on the endless supply of snow crab legs.

Afterward, we began our caravan of vehicles heading north along the California lakeside. Kat and I were only able to make one viewpoint stop before getting completely swamped out by the tourists all on their way home. We gave our quick goodbyes knowing we'd see the honored guests the following day at the river and continued north to I-80.

We ended up taking a back road I had found to our campsite just outside of Foresthill. We had some difficulty finding the road at first, as the directions and highway signs were a bit misleading. With some help from a gas station, we found ourselves on the right road and judging by the printed directions were feeling confident we'd find the campsite with no problems.

Iowa Hill Road was an adventure all on it's own. Within a minute or two we found ourselves on a narrow, one-lane road that pointed directly down. Blind corners were at every other turn, and the turnouts were big enough for half a vehicle (when we actually saw any). The only thing that kept us from turning around was that the road itself was paved (only recently we found out later), and turning around was actually rarely an option. When we reached the bottom of the ravine, we crossed the North Fork American river, and immediately began climbing again. For another 20 minutes we dealt with the same conditions, except now climbing up the hill, expecting some asshat in a jeep to come flying around a blind corner at any moment. When at last the road began to level, a sign declaring we had reached Iowa Hill limits left us breathing in relief. All too soon, I'm afraid. The town was two run down buildings across from each other: on one side was what appeared to be the town hall, though it was dark and run-down, and the other side had an obvious tavern with haf the towns population sitting out front. As soon as we drove past they all started hollering and yelling. Before we could look at each other and say "What the..." a barking dog barreled out of the saloon and started chasing us. I turned to Kat and said "Go! Go!" not wanting to have any reason to stick around this place any longer. We soon outran the dog and left Iowa Hill in our dust.

Day 5
After surviving the attempted siege on our camp by mosquitoes, we went to bed to prepare for an early morning. We met Lance and Jacinda shortly before 8am the next morning in Foresthill to raft the Middle Fork of the American River. Kat and I were pleased to see her planning the trip on a Monday had paid off. Only 3 others had signed up for the day and the 4 of us would be in a raft by ourselves. From the get-go we all played the part of the first time newbie, and asked some of our favorite questions from customers in our years of guiding:

"How cold is the water?"
"Are we going to get wet?"
"Are there rocks in the river?"
"What if I fall out?"

We had everybody convinced we had never rafted before, right up to the point were we put our paddles in the water. The guide called for a stroked, and like a machine the four of us did a powerful synchronized stroke. It was almost laughable when the guide remarked, "Um, that was a pretty good stroke." We spilled the beans at that point and had a great time sharing stories and comparing notes as commercial rafters.

The Newleyweds
This river has some amazing features. The rapids are primarily pool-drop, so there were several ledge drops of about 3-8 feet followed by big pools of flat water behind. Almost every rapid we ran was easy to read from the water and understand the line. A couple drops had some hidden rocks or obstacles that we were glad to have a knowledgeable guide on. The biggest two rapids of the day were Tunnel Chute and Ruck-A-Chucky.

Tunnel Chute is a man-made rapid from the Gold Rush days. Miners used explosives to blow out the rock wall and divert the river flow as they found the currents were powerful enough to erode the soft rock, but not the gold it contained. Tunnel Chute is a strong chute of water that pushes up against the rock wall on the side of the river, then elbows back to the center with a 6' drop which submarines the raft (similar to Husum falls on the White Salmon). When you surface, the boat is still in a chute with water cascading over the left wall. The boat then slowly meanders into a 100yd tunnel, with the roar of the rapid behind you. It was an unforgettable spot.
Ruck-A-Chucky Falls
After a long flat section (with lots of paddling and no rapids), the river comes to a massive drop. Ruck-A-Chucky falls is a mandatory portage for commercial rafters, but I have seen experts run it on youtube. Our guides had us walk around the bank while they floated the boats through the drop. One guide would push the boats through, and the other would catch up and tie them off at the bottom of the rapid. On both occasions, the raft ended up stuck before they reached the bottom, and the guide had to dive off a semi truck sized boulder and swim to the raft to recover. We were pretty impressed with the operation.

We had a great day with AO Rafting, and their guides were very professional and fun (Thanks Ryan and Adam!). We'd tell them about our drive on Iowa Hill Road, and they mentioned we were lucky not to have stopped in town. Apparently the residents do not have mail, phone or electricity and prefer to keep to themselves and leave the world outside alone. After hearnig that, I realized my gut reaction of thinking this is where rednecks like those in "Deliverance" come from wasn't too far off. We said our goodbyes to Lance and Jacinda and headed back to camp to fend off the mosquitoes and prepare for the following day's beer drinking marathon.

Up next - Brewery Tour Extravaganza!

Edit: Bonus video scouting Ruck-A-Chucky Falls

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cali trip report - Part I

Day 1
Thursday morning was a mad dash to get out the door. I knew there were a ton of chores to get wrapped up while Kat was at her last day of class, and not much time to waste. I almost succeeded with having everything ready by the time she returned, and we managed to get on the road shortly before 2pm. By the time we were south of Portland it seemed like we had traveled back in time about 3 months. The sky darkened and the clouds dumped rain on us as if it were early March, not June. We found a Motel 6 in Medford around 11pm to crash at after traveling nearly 500 miles our first day.

Day 2
Left Medford, OR just after 8am after getting some crappy coffee and filling up in the state of cheap gas. Crossing into California on I-5 was pretty uninteresting to start. Kat and I pointed and joked at the palm trees along the highway that certainly weren’t indigenous. Mt. Shasta was a welcome sight for us however, which looms over Northern California much like Rainier. I was more and more uncomfortable the further south we got. I think it was following the highway pointing us in the direction of Los Angeles.

When we reached Sacramento, we headed East on US-50, and the trip completely changed. After hours of dry hills and commercially placed palm trees, now that we were driving towards the Sierra Mountains and Tahoe the scenery was much more pleasant and familiar. Suddenly we were deep in the woods and beginning a climb into the mountains, following the South Fork of the American River. South Lake Tahoe reminded Kat of Aspen, Colorado – a resort town that lies right at the ski slopes. We checked into our hotel to change and quickly had to leave for scheduled wedding festivities.

We toured the Lake for 90 minutes on a modified yacht. Family stories were told, drinks were served and pictures were taken. The highlight of the cruise was circling Emerald Bay, small cove at the corner of the lake that was at one point privately owned, but now a State Park and National Landmark. Afterwards, the wedding party and guests met at the casino for clubbing and gaming. We walked 2 blocks across the Stateline to Nevada where the Casino strip beckons tourists to lose their money. Eventually, I sat with the boys at a blackjack table and donated $140 to the casino over the course of a few hours. Kat was most amused by being able to order a beer after 2am and be able to walk the streets of Nevada with a drink in hand. We finally headed back to our hotel in California at 3 in the morning.

Day 3
In the morning, we found a diner for breakfast a few blocks west we could walk to. This walk also helped us find a Starbucks in the area, which ended up being the only places that had anything than drip coffee or Folger’s for most of our time in California. After breakfast we made our way back to the hotel and prepared for the early afternoon wedding.
Lake Tahoe
The wedding took place on the shores of Lake Tahoe. It was small and lasted no more than 30 minutes. The weather was beautiful and helped for a very memorable day. After the wedding and pictures, the guests made their way to the Port House for the reception dinner. I had the lobster tail, which was very succulent and enjoyable. We were also able to enjoy some decent beer here, New Belgium’s 1886, a dark Belgian ale.

Later in the evening we all gathered again at the casino for more clubbing and gaming. Kat is a reluctant gambler, but she had some fun at the Wheel of Fortune slots. We played $20, and at one point she had run that all the way up to $170. We ended up cashing out for $100, which was a nice win after my previous night’s blackjack loss. The entire group was tired from the Friday night party, and we ended up going to bed soon after.

Stay tuned for more to come!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

in California!

Birrell here, signed in as Kat to show her how easy it is to post on the blog on her laptop...

We're currently in Santa Rosa, at our campsite At Spring Lake. I don't have a strong connection at the moment, but I've been regularly updating our status at Twitter. Follow along if you're not already. Now on to pints of Pliny!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Destination: California Adventure!

Needless to say, Kat and I are filled with anticipation about leaving for our vacation tomorrow afternoon. I've been spending most of yesterday and today packing bags, cleaning house, and generally preparing for 12 days away from home. It's possible I'll be able to throw up a blog post on the trip and I may make updates on my newest find, Twitter.

If you're not familiar with Twitter, it's way for folks to let their friends and others know what they are doing at that very instant in a short message by the web or phone (SMS) text. If you have a twitter account, you can follow me here. I'm not going to promise to update this on any regular schedule (if at all), but it's much more likely for me to send a quick text message than it is to find a place with wireless to set up the laptop. More information on Twitter can be found at on their FAQ.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Upcoming California Trip

Kat and I have talked about a road trip through Northern California for a few years now. We have always wanted to see the giant Redwoods, drive the coast highway, and drink beer at our favorite brewery, Lagunitas. Our long time friend through guiding, Lance, recently met a great gal and quickly decided to tie the knot and chose Lake Tahoe for the location. This gave us a great opportunity to finally take the trip we've always wanted to after spending a few days celebrating with them!

Here's a map I made using Google to illustrate the locations of our scheduled stops:

(click for large picture or here for the rough driving directions)

Day 1: We'll try to cover half the distance to Tahoe on a straight shot south on I-5. We don't have any plans on where to stay, but somewhere around Medford, OR is likely.

Day 2: Arrive in Tahoe(B) at roughly 3pm. This is the earliest we can check in, and we have a scheduled dinner at 5 or so with the wedding party.

Day 3: Wedding day in Tahoe.

Day 4: Wedding Brunch, and then we'll casually make our way to our first camping spot(C), just outside the small town of Foresthill, CA.

Day 5: Rafting on the Middle Fork American River(D)! We're taking the newlyweds with us on this trip as well.

Day 6: A full day of breweries to visit. We'll start for lunch at Moylan's Brewery(E), then tour the Lagunitas Brewery(F) in the afternoon. After setting up camp in Santa Rosa(G), we'll make our way to the town for an evening at Russian River Brewery(H).

Day 7: Assuming we can get wake up in time after yesterday's long day of drinking, We'll head to our first stop in the Redwoods(K), but making stops at either Bear Republic Brewhouse(I), Mendocino Brewing(J) or both.

Day 8: A tour of Mad River Brewing(M) in the afternoon, with a possible stop at Lost Coast Brewing(L) sometime in the day. We'll camp at Prairie Creek Redwood State Park(N).

Day 9: Lay-over day at Prairie Creek to stop and enjoy the forest.

Day 10: We push on up to Oregon along the coastal highway. Camping at Sunset Bay State Park(O).

Day 11: Before arriving at Cape Lookout (R), we will certainly stop at the Pelican Pub and Brewery(Q), and most likely Rogue Alehouse(P) as well.

Day 12: Back home to Seattle.

We didn't originally plan on having a set of structured stops, but once we realized how much we wanted to do and didn't want to waste time finding camping areas it made more sense. We leave a week from tomorrow, June 5th and return on Monday the 16th. We will have a laptop with us throughout the trip, so I'll try to post a quick entry at a brewery or two. We'll also take a ton of pictures, and hopefully some video footage as well. Should be great!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Double Duty Wenatchee Post

Kat Guides Our Raft
We've been east of the Cascades the past two weekends rafting on the Wenatchee River. Since we finally got some spring sunshine and warmth, the snow has started to melt and the rivers are swelling. In my opinion, this is the best time to run the 'snatch, since other local runs are above recommended flows.

Two weeks ago, the temperatures were at near record highs and the Wenatchee was above 15,000cfs on Saturday the 17th. Due to some mismanagement, I ended up on the banks with the dog, as the 96F weather was too much for him to bear on his own. Kat took down 4 of our friends for a huge ride, and I snapped a few pictures instead.

I did get to raft this past weekend, with flows at 11,000-12,000cfs. This is an ideal flow, as the waves become enormous but almost all are runnable. Most of the rapids feature huge standing haystack waves or big meaty holes with recovery time after each. We ended up organizing 3 boats on Saturday and five for Sunday, which is large for us without meeting other WRRR boaters or joining another organized group.

We're inching closer to our California road trip - we leave nine days from today. I'll put up a post with a map and list of our planned destinations sometime this coming week. We don't have any rafting planned this coming weekend, but may try for a day trip if we can make the time.

Blue Sky Boat FlipOur Former Company Cleaning up a Flip

Friday, May 16, 2008

Double Batch Bottled

I just wanted to make a quick post to relay that we had a successful bottling day. We bottled both our third IPA and the wheat ale brewed last weekend. The IPA (which was brewed 5 weeks ago) is doing fantastic, really nice flavor. If it were carbonated, it would be ready to drink now. The Wheat will take a bit longer to mature.

We're headed over to the Wenatchee again this weekend for some big water. Should be some gigantic waves to punch through. See you after this beautiful weekend!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wenatchee River

We had a great time rafting the Wenatchee River over the weekend with our soon to be married friends Lance and Jacinda. Jacinda has recently been bit by the rafting bug, so we got her out on the river with a chance to guide the boat on her own. She did great on her first real opportunity on the stick - especially after she took her first swim! The river was a decent moderate level, but will probably skyrocket this coming weekend due to the forecasted heat wave. Most likely, we'll be out there again since most of the rivers this side of the mountains will be flowing well above our comfort zone.

Kat and I have been working out the details of our road trip. We've made some reservations at campgrounds, so our itinerary is becoming more structured than we originally thought. I'll put up a post detailing our plans once they are ironed out a bit more.

We'll also be bottling the two batches of beer we still have in fermenters - the IPA 3 and Wheat Ale 1. If we bottle by this weekend, these will be drinkable during the trip. For once, we have an opportunity to bottle two batches on the same day. This is because the wheat ale is not dry-hopped (and therefore not transfered to secondary). It will mean for a long day of washing and sanitizing bottles, but will be nice to knock out two batches.

Here's a couple shots from the weekend:

Jacinda on the stick
Jacinda on the stick

Marc is trippin!
Marc tripping out in the cave

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Middle Middle Snoqualmie Video

Here's a short little video I took at the bottom of the House Rocks rapid on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie today.

Wheat Ale 1

Yep, we went ahead and brewed a Wheat Ale I had been thinking about for the last couple of days. What made this batch more fun is we got to use a brand new piece of brew equipment recently purchased, a wart chiller. This item is simply coiled copper tubing with an attachment for a hose on one end and a outflow hose on the other. This allows the brewer to rapidly cool the beer to the temperature that the yeast should be added. For us, this took just under 15 minutes. For comparison, our last batch which was cooled using the ice bath method took over 75. This should give us better tasting beer, and reduce 'chill haze', which is essentially cloudy beer and is only aesthetic.

The recipe we used is basically our own. We modeled it a bit off a clone recipe, but went ahead and changed several things based on our own experience. This should be a light ale, hopefully very tasty over the upcoming summer months.

We're off to the river this afternoon - the first of the weekly Middle Fork Snoqualmie runs we've attended. This is a quick class III-IV run just outside of North Bend, about 45 minutes out of the city. Now that the weather is finally warming up, we should be able to run this more regularly.

Below are a couple of photos from the Green.
Danger Ahead Andy!
Danger ahead, Quig!

Birrell below Paradise rapid
Me just below paradise rapid.

Jessica's first Nozzle squeeze
Jessica's first time through the Nozzle.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Green River Cleanup

Saturday I joined WRRR for their annual Green River cleanup. There were over 150 people on the river this day to help pitch in and pick up garbage along the river (and also to enjoy a day of boating). Our friends the Quigs and Dave Hogan and his girlfriend Robin joined me for the trip. Kat unfortunately had to stay home as she had woke up with flu symptoms. Dave Hogan is an outstanding photographer so, I handed him our camera to document the trip. Once he's finished with the pictures, I'll post a few up. There is also a good chance of some video surfacing of our run through the Nozzle, the class IV rapid on the Green. Shelly Becker was a the bottom of he rapid with her camcorder and I'm fairly sure she was filming us. Shelly is an outstanding catarafter from WRRR, and has been filming and editing videos for a little while and doing a great job of it. Some of these videos show her and others running some of the toughest whitewater around, I highly recommend checking them out.

Not much happening on the homebrew front. I do have some time this week however, so maybe will finally brew a American Wheat Ale. I'll be sure to post about it if it happens.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

White Salmon Report

Great time had by all at the White Salmon river. Aside from the massive amounts of quality beer, there was also a ton of good food cooked by chef Miller. I finally had a chance to run an inflatable kayak down this river on Saturday, and managed to only fall out once! Here are a couple of videos Kat took on Sunday.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Middle Fork American River

We just booked our reservation with All Outdoors Rafting to raft the middle fork of the American River, just outside Sacramento, CA. We're putting together a road trip to include this and visit some of our favorite breweries. More details on that to come - in the meantime, check out this video of the stretch we'll be on!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another Brewday!

I'll try a little live blogging today since we decided to brew our 10th beer. My folks surprised me with a gift certificate to the brew supply store up the street for my birthday, so we decided to take advantage and make our last beer for awhile since the rafting season is going to keep us busy.

We also just finished bottling our Imperial Pale Ale, and the sample tastes spectacular.

3:03pm - Okay, this post is not quite live since we technically started it about 20min ago, but the pre-boil with specialty grains is underway. This used a variety of light malts including Munich, Carapils, Wheat and Honey. The house already smells like a brewery.

3:25pm - Wort is now in the brew kettle. Once we get it up to ~180F we'll had the first extract addition and an ounce of hops (Simcoe and Columbus).

3:38pm - While waiting for the wort temperature to rise, Ryan Rowland-Smith struck out Garrett Anderson with the bases loaded to secure the win for the Mariners. Nice win boys!

4:02pm - Malt and hops added. We'll boil until we reach the hot break (after bubbles subside), and then start our timed hop additions. Coming up are Cascade, Amarillo and more Simcoe and Columbus.

4:15pm - Boil reached. Waiting for the hot break.

4:20pm - Happy 4/20!

- Timing starts now. Added Columbus hops to boil for 60min.

4:56pm - Added Amarillo hops. This and the hops afterwards will mostly contribute to the aroma.

– Added last dry malt extract (DME) addition.

5:11pm - Added Simcoe hops to boil for 15min. Also added 1 teaspoon of Irish Moss for clarity.

5:16pmAdded Columbus hops for 10min boil.

5:21pmAdded Cascade hops to boil for 5 minutes.

5:25pmAdded a full ounce of Cascade hops for the last minute of boil.

5:26pm - That's the end of the timed boil. We'll whirlpool the wort and let it rest for 15 minutes before cooling it in the ice bath.

5:41pm - The wort has been transferred to the ice bath. Rather than timing it, we'll wait until it cools to 75-80F.

6:55pm - Looks like it's time to buy a wort chiller, 75 minutes is probably a bit too long for this part of the process. Anyway, got it moved into the fermenter and aerated. We used some leftover yeast from our ESB that we still had stored in the fridge (Pacman strain). Kat boiled up a small batch of extract yesterday to add to the yeast as a starter. It seemed pretty feisty when we activated it before tossing it in so we're not too worried about it. It's sitting at a comfortable 69F in the cabinet. See you in a week when we rack and dryhop. I'll also have rafting stories from our trip on the White Salmon.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Yeast Washing

The article on yeast washing I referenced earlier can be found at Homebrew Digest. Happy brewing!

Back to posting

Been away for a little while, sorry about that. I've been thinking a lot about the blog, just not posting. I feel as if I've almost been hyping up each entry in my mind before it gets written, instead of just sitting down and sharing the recent news. I'm going to try this more personal approach and see if it can't lead to some more content.

First, an update on the brewing since early March. We've brewed two beers, an ESB and an Imperial Pale Ale. The most fascinating thing to report about this is we used the same yeast for both beers. When shopping for ingredients for the ESB (Grand Teton Brewing Bitch Creek ESB clone) we decided to try a special yeast that had come in. This was the Pacman yeast, formulated by Wyeast specifically for Rogue. It was a mutation of the strain that was called for in the recipe, so it was only a slight change. Anyway, when racking this beer the following week, Kat used directions she found online to reuse the dormant yeast for our Imperial IPA (I'll post them when I can find them). I think it took a little longer for the yeast to take off than the full package, but once it got going it was aggressive. We racked it just a few days ago and it smells great. Looking forward to that one.

We've also finally sampled many of our batches. Here's a rundown of all the drinkable brews we have so far, and our thoughts.
  • Brown Ale (Bob's Homebrew) - Full flavored malt with mellow hops. We couldn't believe how great this was for our first attempt, and neither could many of our friends. Supposedly dark maltier beers like this age better than the hoppier pale ales, so this could be really amazing later on.
  • IPA 1 (Dogfish Head 60min clone) - This one took longer than we expected (although now feel that 4 weeks in a bottle is required), but was a great blend of hop character. We actually compared this to a bottle bought from the brewery. The flavors were very different, most likely due to the yeast in the recipe not available. But as stand alone beers, we both agreed we'd prefer to drink our homebrew over the actual beer. We'll probably try our version of the recipe again, with a few modifications.
  • Red Ale 1 (Red Tail Ale clone) - This beer is disappointing and turned out pretty bland. It's a drinkable beer, just not very exciting, with no real noticeable hop or malt character. We wouldn't brew this recipe again.
  • Pliny the Elder clone - Originally we titled this as a double IPA, but I don't really think that applies to this beer. This thing is a hop sledgehammer, as the aroma and bitterness clobbers you in the face. We've only tried it a couple of times, and saving the majority of this batch for next weekend, my birthday. It probably will have have mellowed just enough by then.
  • Porter 1 (Avery New World Porter clone) - Our second dark beer turned out just as good as the first, and maybe better. This thing is fantastic, subtle hints of chocolate and a nice hop aroma. Very smooth and drinkable. We'll use this recipe as a framework for future porters I'm sure.
  • IPA 2 (Lagunitas IPA clone) - We had high expectations for this beer and they have held up. This has a very nice flavor with a bite of hops at the aftertaste. We held the IPA challenge last night between this beer and our first IPA, and this one was decided the champ.
We've got the Rye bottled as well, but it won't be ready for another two weeks. The ESB will get bottled this weekend, and the Imperial was dry-hopped on Wednesday. We probably won't do much more homebrewing until I can get working again. Yeah, that's right, I am officially unemployed as of April 1st. At least I don't have to worry about buying beer. We do have a surplus of left-over ingredients, so there might be a brewday or two still left this spring.

I'd also like to mention an awesome rafting trip we went on last weekend. We joined our friends Paul and Matt down on the Wind River, near Carson, WA. This is a serious class IV+ run with long stretches of continuous whitewater and some BIG drops. Definitely the toughest paddling trip of the year. We had great runs both days. Saturday was cold with snow in the morning, but a dozen determined rafters still went down. Both boats flipped at the same place on the run, but fortunately after the toughest stretch and we recovered in a reasonable time. Sunday's weather was surprisingly nice with the sun following us almost the entire trip. I managed to get thrown from the raft, but nobody else did. You know, I should talk to Matt about that.

The only problem with the Wind River is the camping. In years past, we've always camped out right at the take-out, which is nothing more than a muddy parking lot. It's always wet and cold, not to mention the lack of decent tent sites. I told Kat a few weeks before the trip, "I really want to raft this river, but I am not camping in that spot." We decided to get a motel in Stevenson Saturday night, which really made all the difference for the weekend. Our friends that were staying overnight also decided to join us, and we had a hilarious night hanging out in town. One of our favorite small breweries, Walking Man Brewery is in Stevenson, so we sampled many of their beers, and tall pints of the Homo Erectus, their Imperial IPA (such a tasty brew). I splurged and picked up a T-shirt as well.

I'll post more, I swear. Cheers!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Hop Rod Rye Clone

Our seventh attempt with the brewpot would be a rye ale recipe. I've always enjoyed Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye, and we needed another ale that would feature the hops we loved, but a different style than IPA. This recipe fit the order; a beer with lots of hops but with some different ingredients.

The most unusual addition was the inclusion of both rye malt and flaked rye. While we did use several pounds of malted barley (not counting the extract), the rye has a distinct spiciness that is unique. The flaked rye (see picture above) looks just like rolled oats, but I wouldn't eat it for breakfast. After using over 4 pounds of grain for our pre-boil mash, the wort was thick like stew before straining the grains out. Afterwards, the wort ended up with a light muddy-brown color and a fantastic smell. We used a small amount of Columbus hops for bittering and a larger amount for aroma. We'll use Centennial and Amarillo for the dry-hop. Our sample taken for gravity reading had a significant amount of sediment at the bottom, which I can only assume came from the flaked rye. Looking forward to seeing how this one turns out.

We also bottled our Porter on Saturday, and, man is this going to be fantastic! We drank the test sample for our gravity reading and were very impressed with this recipe. I think three to four weeks in a bottle will make this beer outstanding.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Racking and Bottling

Sorry for the delayed post this week. This is likely due to the fact that we did not brew over the weekend.

We did bottle our Pliny the Elder clone. This was a bit difficult with all the hops left in the carboy. It was a bit nerve-racking (pun intended) getting a solid stream flowing through the siphon since it was wrapped in pantyhose to help filter out the hop trub. We ended up aerating the beer quite a bit during the process which hopefully won't impact the flavor too much. Maybe next time we'll try using the pantyhose at the exit end of the tube to see if that manages to work any better (but honestly, it'll be quite some time before we make a beer with this amount of dry-hops).

Not much else to report, other than our brown ale really tastes fantastic. Looking forward to giving our first IPA a true taste test this weekend. Kat picked out an ESB recipe that looks mighty tasty, so that is most likely what we'll be brewing on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lagunitas IPA Clone and Green River

We decided to go ahead and brew another IPA this past weekend. Our reasoning was that since IPA is usually our style of choice, we might as well go ahead and brew a bunch so we have a stash over the summer months when we won't be brewing as much (due to time and temperatures). I've been eyeing the Lagunitas IPA clone recipe for awhile now, as this is one of our favorite beers. The batch went off without a hitch, and included Horizon, Willamette and a ton of Cascade hops. We decided to alter the recipe a tab, and will dry-hop this with another ounce and a half of Cascade. We also bottled our Red Tail clone and racked our porter. Quite the manufacturing line we have in the kitchen the last few Saturdays.

On Sunday, we loaded up the boat and joined WRRR for a trip down the Green River Gorge. Although it was chilly in the morning, the weather was fantastic and we enjoyed sunny skies all day. Kat and I "R2ed" (just the two of us paddling) this trip, which is nice since we usually have additional paddlers along for the ride. The Green has some outstanding whitewater, including a IV+ section known as Mercury drop and the Nozzle. Mercury has some powerful hydraulics including a couple meaty holes that are necessary to navigate cleanly. Directly after Mercury is the Nozzle, a 5-6 foot wide gap between two large boulders which is the only runnable slot. If you have swimmers in Mercury, there's not much time to recover and make the Nozzle which makes this section generally pretty hairy. Everyone in the group had clean lines and we enjoyed an outstanding day on the river.

Not sure on the schedule for next weekend yet. We do have a bunch of things to catch up on, so we may delay our next brew for another week. Our Pliny clone will be bottled on Saturday, which will be an interesting task. Looking forward to smelling more of those hops - yum!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

First Taste

I just had to put up a quick post as we just opened our first beer! It had the satisfying "pffft" that you all love to hear when you crack one open. The flavor is great - subtle tones of chocolate and caramel.

Hot damn, we made beer!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Avery Porter Clone

Our repeat performance of the full array of brewing tasks went much smoother than last week. We managed to get bottling started at eleven in the morning and were able to finish brewing just after 6pm. With efficiency in mind, we were a bit excited and almost got ahead of ourselves by bottling before we added priming sugar. Fortunately, Kat realized this after we had capped only one bottle so we were able to correct the mistake painlessly. The good news was that we had a large sample of our IPA to taste. Although the beer was flat, it was actually very good: slightly bitter with a big aroma, and had a fantastic color and clarity. I think this beer will get us a lot of "you made this?" from friends since it's more of the style our friends prefer (and it's tasty)!

After bottling, we started on both of the next tasks - brewing our porter and racking the Pliny clone. Tackling both at the same time was a great use of time since there is always down time during brewing. Our Avery Porter clone started with just under 4 lbs. of malted grains for our pre-boil mash. The featured grains included carapils, chocolate malt, and black patent malt to give it a rich dark chocolate smell and look. While those were steeping, we started added hops to our carboy which will dry-hop our Pliny clone. If you look at the photo we took, that's six ounces of hops just for dry hop. For comparison, we haven't yet brewed a beer outside the Pliny that used six ounce total, let alone for dry-hopping. Tasting showed that the beer's bitterness had mellowed out considerably, and left behind a large hoppy aftertaste. We expect this to be a big beer that leaves a mouthful to "chew" on when it's complete in 3-4 weeks.

The porter brewing went off without a hitch. One difference from previous batches was we added half of our malt extract late in the boil for this recipe. Bob mentioned that this helps hop efficiency, which should bring out more of the bitterness from the Columbus hops. Fuggles were used for aroma and again in a week for dry-hop (dry-hopping is unconventional for a porter). These are very aromatic and have a nice fruity and earthy balance. The wort was cooled and we pitched our London Ale yeast at 70F. It's been fermenting nicely since Saturday night. Now we have to decide whether or not to brew again this weekend. Can you believe that I'm leaning towards the 'yes' side?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pliny the Elder Clone

Busy busy brew day for us on Saturday. We knew it would be, as our first bottling attempt was this weekend as well as racking our Red Tail clone from the previous week. We really weren't sure what we were going to brew. We had talked about a few different possibilities during the week, but didn't really have a solid decision. I had found a clone recipe of Russian River's Pliny the Elder IPA which was getting rave reviews, but I knew would be expensive based on the amount of hops in the recipe. Less than an hour before leaving for the brewstore, I came to the conclusion that this was the beer I really wanted to brew, and Kat agreed.

Before we could start on this ale of epic hop proportions, space was needed in the fermenter and therefore beer had to be bottled and racked. Our original brown ale was looking fantastic - it had cleared up nicely and a solid layer of sediment was sitting on the bottom of the carboy. Cleaning and sanitizing the bottles was the real work here, especially without a dishwasher to sanitize. We were able to make the best with what we had. I found some unused organizing racks worked perfectly for drying the bottles after sanitizing. After the cleaning, we added the priming sugar and moved the beer to our bottling bucket. Then it was a fun and easy trade off, as Kat would fill up the bottles, and I'd add the cap. We ended up with 23 12oz. bottles and 12 22oz. bottles, just shy of our expected yield. We did take a taste of the beer, prior to carbonation and it was much better than expected. In 2-3 weeks time, we'll have a fantastic beer to share with our friends!

Our Red Tail was racked to a carboy, and we added an ounce of Cascade hops for dry-hop. The beer did still have a bit of a foamy head at top, which was a small concern. It had been bubbling away for the first few days and slowly tapered off just as our previous attempts so the other behavior was as expected. The sample tasted fairly balanced, but also a very mild flavor. Kat said that adding the dry-hop was "the best thing we could have done" to this beer, and I think she's right.

Brewing the Pliny Clone was a real treat to a couple of hop heads like Kat and I. Even Bob (of Bob's Homebrew Supplies) was impressed by the sheer amount of hops used in this recipe:

Pliny the Elder
1 lb 2-row malt
0.28 lbs crystal malt (40L)
0.86 lbs Carapils malt
1 lb dextrose
6.15 lbs light DME

1.5 oz Chinook hops (mash)
2.75 oz Warrior hops (90min)
0.5 oz Chinook hops (90min)
1 oz Simcoe hops (45min)
1 oz Columbus hops (30min)
2.25 oz Centennial hops (0min)
1 oz Simcoe hops (0min)

Wyeast 1056 American Ale

3 oz Columbus hops (dry-hop)
1.75 oz Centennial hops (dry-hop)
1.75 oz Simcoe hops (dry-hop)

Mash at 150-152F for 45min.

This was a noticeably different recipe from the start as we added and ounce and a half of hops just to the pre-boil mash. The other major difference was the addition of a pound of corn sugar to the boil. This will give lots of fuel for the yeast as it turns the sugars into alcohol and CO2. Let's get back to the hops though. In case you didn't do the math, there is over a full pound of hops in this recipe. This was our first chance to use many of the listed hop varieties for the first time. We both absolutely loved the Columbus hops which had a slight fruity aroma. The Chinook was a nice bittering hop as well, and came through strongly in the tasting. Our only issue during brewing was forgetting about adding Irish Moss, but we added a tsp. with about 10min left in the boil anyway. The airlock has been bubbling like crazy since Sunday morning, and we both know this beer will be tempting to taste as early as possible. We'll do our best to see how long we can hold out, it won't be ready for sure until the end of March and will certainly improve after additional weeks. Good thing we'll have 3 brews to tide us over until then.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Red Tail Ale (Red Ale #1)

We weren't planning on it last weekend, but i got the bug up my ass and just had to brew another batch. It also helped that one of my poker buddies let me borrow his copy of 150 Classic Clone Recipes. This guide was packed with recipes to copy many of our favorite beers - from Guiness to Winterhook and everything in between. We decided a red ale would be a good candidate for our next batch and settled on the Red Tail Ale, a clone of a beer from the Mendocino Brewery.

First, we needed to rack our IPA to make room for the red ale. I went back to Bob's for the third week in a row and picked up a second glass carboy along with an airlock and thermometer strip (and of course, the ingredients needed for this batch). While racking the IPA, it seemed like the beer was being agitated a bit where the cane-siphon meets the hose, and we worried a bit about the oxidizing. Most books seemed to be more concerned with the beer splashing at the bottom of the carboy, so we may be alright. We also added an ounce and a half of Amarillo and Simcoe hops in a hop bag to dry-hop the beer. This will sit in the fermenter with the beer for two weeks until we bottle. Some of our favorite beers are the Maritime Pacific dry-hopped ales, so we're really excited about this one. I'm glad there's a beer that will be ready before this, so I can be more patient about leaving this alone until it's been conditioned for a long enough time.

We had fun with the red ale, which was actually a simpler recipe than our last batch. We used less malt extract for this brew, and the hops were added at the start, at 30 minutes, and at the end of the boil. This gave us plenty of time for cleaning equipment during the downtime (and sipping more beer). We also decided to stray from the recipe a bit and dry-hop this beer as well. We'll use the leftover Cascade hops to add to the secondary fermenter next week when we rack this. We keep talking about taking a week off from brewing, but I just can't stop! Already thinking about brewing a clone of Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale. Either way, we'll be bottling for our first time next weekend. This gets us closer to actually tasting the true "fruits" of our labor.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Skagit river and IPA #1

Second post and we already get to write about both passions!

On Saturday, we took my family up on the Skagit River for a scenic float. There aren't any rapids to write about, but we did see many bald eagles in their natural habitat. The Skagit River is the largest gathering of the eagles in the lower 48 states.

Holy crap was it cold! We've done this trip 3 or 4 times before, and while it's always a bit chilly, this is the first time we've been snowed on while on the river. It didn't just snow - it dumped on us. The crew all kept their smiles and had great attitudes so I applaud them (especially mom, who doesn't do so well on boats as it is). Kat and I ended up meeting some friends who were running the river tomorrow - Mike and Leah - and we ended up talking quite a bit about homebrewing. Mike used to homebrew quite a bit awhile back, and our new enthusiasm got him thinking about getting back into the hobby. I have mixed feelings about this, because he offered us the use of some carboys, and if he's brewing again he might need them...

Sunday was brew day. We started by racking (moving the fermenting beer from one container to another) our brown ale to a glass carboy for secondary fermentation. It smelled fantastic! Some of the specialty grains we used for the pre-boil steeping really came through. We each took a taste of the "green beer" and could tell that it was premature. Okay, we knew that before tasting it, but it was interesting trying the infancy and understanding a bit more about the time it takes for a beer to really taste great. We'll leave the brown ale in the carboy for two weeks before bottling.

We decided to brew an IPA loosely based on the Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA. What makes this beer unique is that the hops are continually added throughout the boil. Our previous beer had hop additions at the start of the boil, and then again 40 minutes into the boil. This IPA recipe called for 1 ounce of hops added continually for one hour. It was fun at first, but did become pretty tedious 40 minutes in. This time we did take hydrometer readings, and will be able to more accurately check when the beer is ready to be racked and also the estimated alcohol percentage. IPA is our favorite style of beer, so we're really excited to see how this one turns out.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First brew!

My homie Dave continues to inspire (and harass) me to record my thoughts and life's events, no matter how trivial, in a blog. My girlfriend Kat and I have recently been interested in homebrewing and I thought that this project would be ideal to write about. Since whitewater rafting is also our passion, I figured the combination of rapids and suds would provide enough interesting material to write about on a weekly basis. Now if only I can stay motivated to post regularly, this blog could go places.

Leading up to the first batch, Kat and I had read a couple of books prior to the event: Nachel's "Homebrewing for Dummies" and Calagione's "Extreme Brewing". The "Dummies" book turned out to be more well-rounded and explained the process in greater detail. We had actually picked this up earlier last summer, and I started reading it in November. The more I read, the more fascinating the science was and less intimidating the process became. My family heard about this new interest and showed encouragement at Christmas: the Calagione book and a gift certificate to Bob's Homebrew in Seattle.

Today marked our initiation into the world of homebrewing. We visited Bob the Friday before and picked up a starter kit and a few various items recommended in our books. While we had picked out a recipe to start with, Bob included his own recipe and all ingredients in the starter kit. Since he had included quality ingredients, we didn't have a problem making the change and he had a recipe that fit our first choice - a brown ale.

Brew day was a blast. We felt very prepared since we had read the previous two books, and also the book that Bob included in the start-up kit, "How to Brew" by John Palmer. Brewing was not difficult, and leaves lots of time in between steps to sip your own cold beverage. In fact, the most difficult part of the process was keeping things clean and sanitized. Our only noticeable mistake was forgetting to take a hydrometer reading before pitching the yeast. This won't make a difference with the taste of the beer, but would have helped us understand the process, and be able to measure the actual change of the beer over the next few weeks. I can already tell that the wait until we crack open the first bottle will be painful. But this certainly seems like a hobby Kat and I will really enjoy.