Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Leviathan Cometh

It's here! My first homebrew, my Leviathan Rye Stout. Well, it was here anyways. I've been exceptionally busy the last few weeks with work and life, so blogging had to take a back seat. This post will be a bit about beer AND bikes, just to catch up.

On October 11th, I opened the first 2 bottles of my Leviathan Rye Stout after the 2 week bottling process. I was a bit wary because the bottles that Joe and I tried the week before were flat (normal) but I thought the beer tasted funny. Looking back I must have gotten a bunch of yeast from the bottom of the bottle into the glass. No biggie.

I didn't take any labels off the bottles, but here is me opening the first 2 real bottles of finished home beer.

I poured Joe's and it turned out fine, just a small head at the top. My bottle must have gotten more of the priming sugar than the other bottle, because as you can see from the picture on the right, my glass turned into foam. I let it settle for a few moments and it was perfect. I've noticed that the smaller bottles like I show in the picture (the red stripe-style bottles) tended to be more carbonated, and that's likely because they were oddly shaped and I had trouble figuring out where to stop filling them. I said before they were like little glass hand-grenades, and they were, just not deadly. Rather they were filled with Leviathan goodness. 

This beer tastes great! I admit, I am biased, but for a first beer it's pretty damn good if I do say so myself. It's a bit "alcohol-y," likely from the high fermenting temperature, but it's got really good hoppy flavors and is pretty light-in-the-mouth for a stout. It sort of makes me think of what a beer would be if an IPA and a Chocolate Stout had a little bitty beer baby. It definitely lives up to the Leviathan name I gave it. The "alcohol-y" flavor tends to overwhelm the more discrete flavors, like the chocolate malt, especially in the "hand grenades" but after a bit of a chill (not ice cold, mind you), the beer in the bigger, normal-sized bottles goes down like butter. LIKE BUTTAH! 

"I'm a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic - Leviathan Rye Stout is neither a boring beer nor a kitten. Discuss."

I've taken a 6-pack to work where my co-workers and some homebrewers from another lab told me they thought it was fantastic. My roommate Joe liked it a lot, and Kelsey wanted to take some back to Austin with her! I started with 48 bottles, and after a month I'm down to 5. Oh no! I don't have another beer going yet. The keyword is yet... Mwahahahahaha! I have plans, oh yes I do...

I'm in the process right now of expanding my fermentation abilities. I'd like to pick up another 5g carboy so I can have 2 secondary fermentations going at once. My idea is to start brewing a brown ale in the next few weeks (it's a 6-week process) and once I move that from the primary stage to the secondary stage, I want to brew a winter warmer ale (2-month process) so that I have a continual beer supply through the Winter. That would be ideal for my hobby, not to mention tasty as hell. So I need to get a few more supplies. I also plan on growing some starter yeast cultures in the lab (what better place than a micro lab?) and begin to make freezer stocks of the cultures I purchase from the stores so I don't have to continually buy them anymore. We've got room in the -80 C freezer for a box, so I figure until someone needs that space I'll use it for my yeast strains. I can autoclave my media and grow the yeast at the exact temperature I want, preparing the highest yields and correct inoculum size. This is going to be epic. Yes, I realize how nerdy that is, and nope I don't care at all. See below.

Honey badger don't give a sh*t!

The other thing I want to do is make the igloo cooler fermenter modification. Ales ferment between 60-70, something that my apartment can't seem to drop to (it's getting chilly at night now with temps in the low 30s and we don't have our heat on and our apartment is probably 72-74 degrees anyways). I found a really cool, no pun intended, fermenter cooler that I think will aid me. Most fermenter cooling devices require you to put a thermostat device onto an old refrigerator and it alters the temperature of the fridge to be exactly what you want it to be. Other people use their basement, where it's often very cool. I don't have that luxury. But this gentleman at given2flybrewing has made an extremely cost-efficient modification of a 60g vertical igloo cooler on wheels. Basically he cut out a hole that allows the fermenting carboy to be placed in the cooler snugly, and he freezes water in old 2-Liter soda bottles, which he places in the sealed cooler with the fermenter and he removes/adds the bottles as needed to maintain the temperature that he needs. How cool is that?? Check out that link for all the stuff he's done, including the fermenter cooler. 

Ok, so what about biking? Well, things here in Iowa City have been getting chilly. My morning commute is now done with extra layers as the morning temps are in the 30s and low 40s now. I rode one day in sleet/rain/snow crap. Not fun, at least not that early in the morning. My bike is holding up quite well, but I admit I'm a bit concerned about winter riding. It's dark at 5pm now, and though I have an OK light, a better one will set me back about $150. Cars still really aren't looking for me (the light helps) and in the rain my bike has skidded out into intersections at the bottom of some of the bigger hills before (brakes are a little too good it seems) in a sort of hydroplaning-bike-with-flailing-rider kind of scenario. Ice and snow are not going to help that situation. We'll see how this goes. I'm also concerned because there is 1 hill that still exhausts me when I finish it. It's not even that steep, it's just long. I ride that hill every day and it still burns my legs. I hope if I end up keeping the Winter commuting to a halt that I will be able to pick the bike back up in Spring and not die on that hill. 

I think that's enough for now. I'm going to go grab one of my last remaining bottles of Leviathan and enjoy that as I sit and read for a bit. If you're up for some randomness, I recently started a twitter feed called Tibbs' Tidbits, which is basically a way for me to spew off random bits of information that I've acquired. Nothing too serious. Just random facts. Check it out here!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Soon... Very soon...

My beer creation is almost complete!!! MWAHAHAHAHAHA! I feel like a mad scientist, I really do. Sure, it's only beer, but - well it's BEER!! Who wouldn't be excited about 48 (well, 46 now) bottles of home brewed beer?

It's been two weeks since my last confession... Ha. Two weeks ago, my secondary fermentation ended for the Leviathan Rye Stout. The recipe kit recommended that after two weeks of primary fermentation, I move to two weeks of bottling to carbonate the beer and finish it up. I decided to do one week of primary fermentation and one week of secondary fermentation. Bottling beer is the most labor intensive portion of the beer-making process. It's not hard, just very tedious.

I took my SG reading and the beer was at 1.014, very close to the previous reading before the secondary fermentation. You can barely see it in these pictures, but the beer was dark but I could see through it. Very nice! My secondary fermentation worked. It also tasted just like beer. Granted, it was flat, warm beer but beer nonetheless. Yes, yes my sweet! It's almost time!!!!!

I mixed up 5 gallons of sanitizer and filled all 48 bottles with the sanitizer. Note the towel... This was critical. I cannot suggest enough to have a towel on your floor. Bottling makes a mess. To bottle I use a bottle-filler (http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/fermtech-bottle-filler.html), which is a 3/8" diameter tube that is connected to a plastic hollow rod. At the end of the rod is a little plastic tab that extends below the rod, and when you set the rod down on end, the tab is pressed up, opening the hollow rod allowing gravity to pull the liquid into the bottle. When you lift the rod up, the tab falls and beer stops flowing into the bottle. Easy, right? Sort of. Every time I tried to use the bottle-filler, the little tab would stick and I'd be spraying sanitizer all over the kitchen like a tiny, malicious, profanity-spewing elephant.

I boiled 16oz of water and 5 tablespoons of sugar to make the priming solution. The priming solution gives the remaining yeast enough nutrient to ferment a bit more IN the bottle to carbonate the beer.
"Flat beer is bad, mmkay?"

I poured the sugar water into the filling bucket, then auto-siphoned the wort from the secondary fermenter into the bucket. This allows the sugar water to mix into the beer without aerating it too much. Oxygen at this point is a no-no. Anyways, I put sanitizer on some paper towels, covered up the openings and siphoned the beer into the bottling bucket.

I ran into a few problems along the way. Siphoning really only works as long as the fluid being siphoned is above the fluid it's being siphoned in to. Maybe it's not really that way, but it's how it worked for me. Every little while, the levels of beer in each container would equal out and the siphoning would essentially come to a halt. I finally had to move the bottling bucket towards the ground, suspended on a P.O.S. bin that I was hoping wouldn't crack and break, spilling the sweet, alcoholic, elixir of life I had been making all over my kitchen. Probably would have ruined my night. And by probably, I mean I would have cried and resentfully cleaned up my mess, wiping my tears with beer-soaked towels. Fortunately, the bin held up and the beer was siphoned successfully. 

Then came the process of painstakingly emptying each bottle of sanitizer, filling the bottle with beer and capping it. I decided to do this in a conveyor-belt style method. I sanitized the bottle caps during the other sanitizing steps, so everything was ready to go. I'd empty a 6-pack of the sanitized bottles, filling each one with beer with my left hand while my right hand emptied another bottle full of sanitizer into the sink. Then after all 6 bottles were done, I'd simply cover the bottle tops with the caps and move on to the next 6-pack. Again, while this sounds simple, the process resulted in 48 bottles of beer, but probably 1/8 of a gallon of beer slung around the kitchen as the gravity bottle filler would randomly spite me and spew flat, warm Leviathan stout all over the place. But, when all was said and done, I had my 2 cases of beer bottled, capped and set away to bottle ferment for 2 weeks...
Just a bit of a side note. When you bottle, if you end up doing all of this, and you use cardboard 6-pack holders... Wet cardboard is NOT great for support. I know this, and my guess is most of the people reading this post know this, but I decided to use them anyways. The 20 foot walk from my kitchen to the bathroom (Again, CLEAN!!!!) where I keep the bottles in case of explosion was very precarious. 

Another side note - pay attention to how much sugar is added to the mixture before bottling, and pay attention to how much of the mixture you put in each bottle. If you're not careful you could end up with 48 little carbonated, beer-filled glass hand grenades. Just a thought...

Flash forward to 1 week ago. I decided that patience was not my strongest virtue and, you know, I needed to make sure my beer was progressing correctly... There weren't any bubbles in the bottles!!!! This is totally normal, as you've sealed off the bottles and the fermentation that is occurring is minimal. Coke and Pepsi aren't bubbly until you open the bottle and introduce air, allowing the gas exchange. Same concept here. I cracked open a beer for myself and one for Joe, my roommate. Ignore his face in the first picture. I didn't tell him I was taking a picture and really was trying to JUST get the beer first, but camera phones aren't great and the lighting in our place wasn't stellar. The second one was a better, even though he was hamming it up!

It tasted great! It was warm, but the carbonation was coming along nicely. Tomorrow is the two week mark. Beer time!

Something wicked this way comes...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My 1st Culinary Ride

About a week ago, on the 18th, I took part in my first major bike ride ever. I've been struggling with the bike culture here, to be honest, and was looking for a group of people to meet and ride with. I heard about this and figured, "What the hell? I may as well give it a shot, right?" We'll come back to this in a moment, and I have to admit it's going to be a bit of a rant. I apologize in advance. First, I need to tell you a bit about my biking background. Sit back, grab a beer, and get ready to read...

I started really cycling in January of this year. I had a Cannondale road bike that I had acquired from a dear friend, and I rode that when it was nice, but it was intermittent at best. I survived my oral exams for my PhD program last fall, and I decided that with those out of the way, I would look for a hobby. I had to walk about 15 minutes in the snow/pseudo-Antarctic weather that is a Minnesota winter to get to my bus to work, then I had to wait for the bus and hope it got there within a few minutes. There were days it took close to 45 minutes to get to work, a grand total of maybe 3 miles, including my walk to the bus. Maybe. I decided, "Hey, when I rode my bike to work in the summer, it took about 15 minutes. I really LIKE biking. Wait, it takes me that long just to walk to the bus. I have to freeze my butt off WAY longer than if I was just riding my bike. Sure, I'll still be cold, but it'll only be for about the same amount of time as it takes me to walk to the bus anyways..." So, I decided I'd get a new commuting bike.

I researched and researched and found a bike I wanted. The Surly Cross Check (www.surlybikes.com). It's a steel-alloy (Chromoly) framed bike designed for racing off-road/on-road races call Cyclocross races. The basic idea is that you have a road geometry bike with road bike parts, but the fork (Where the front tire goes) is a bit wider to allow for fatter off-road tires. Cyclocross races typically are on paths in the woods/mud and people ride around and have to run over certain obstacles while carrying their bikes. This meant the bike could take a lot of punishment. Another big plus was the steel frame. Aluminum frames are great. My Cannondale was an aluminum frame. They are light as hell and fast to boot. They do, however, ride VERY stiff and you feel every. Single. Bump. For real. By the time I'd ride 2 miles on the MN roads, I felt like a Rhino had run me over. It's not just your butt, so a comfy seat won't help. The whole bike rattles and rocks. Your arms hurt, your wrists hurt, your butt hurts... Steel takes a LOT of the shock out of the bumps. I still feel them, but they aren't a problem at all. Another rare, but possible, problem aluminum frames can have with potholes and really big bumps is that the frame can actually bend. No good. Frames are expensive as hell. Probably THE most expensive part of the bike. So... Steel is was going to be. Surly is based out of MN, giving some credibility to the bike's ability to handle weather of all types. They've got a GREAT reputation. Now that I've ridden one, I know why. I could use this bike for anything. It was considered a cyclocross bike, but in reality, it was a freaking tank. Really. After having it for a while - it's slick, fast, and can take just about any punishment you send its way.

Here's my bike, with all my stuff on it (rear rack, panniers aka the bags, bottle cage and water bottle, and some fenders)

My Granddad was gracious enough to help me out with buying the bike. He and I spoke a long time over this, and he gave me the money to get the bike. I'm forever grateful to him. If you're reading Granddad, I know I've said it over and over and you're probably tired of hearing it, but thank you so much. I love you.

This bike is my one and only vehicle now. Kelsey has the car, as she needs it for work. I wouldn't know what to do without my bike. I picked the bike up in late January and decided that I would try cycling in the winter on my first day with it... HUGE MISTAKE.

The first day I rode, Minneapolis/St. Paul got 6 inches of snow and it was freezing. Biking in those conditions is extremely dangerous. I almost got hit a number of times. I decided to hold off riding until the weather got better - so I did. Meanwhile I started to learn about the cycling culture. I promise, this IS going somewhere and it leads back to the Culinary Ride.

There are a different cyclists in the world. Racers, commuters, single speed/fixie riders, cruisers - pretty much all kinds. I happen to be a commuter, sort of a mixed breed of the racer and single speed/fixie riders. I like the racing styles bikes and the utility that a geared bike gives me, but I LIKE the community of commuters and single speed/fixie riders better. I'm not into racing and riding for hundreds of miles. This was great in MSP, as there was a HUGE cycling community and you could pretty much find whatever you wanted. I started riding again as Spring rolled around and tried to explore and ask the local shops where the cyclists got together. There are a bunch of places, Angry Catfish (http://www.angrycatfishbicycle.com/), One on One (http://www.oneononebike.com/) - these are just two of the most popular but there are tons of places. Even places that aren't "cyclist hangouts" have bike racks and tons of cyclists heading there, especially in Uptown.

Iowa City... Not so much. People here are either racers or they don't ride much. For the most part, at least. I went to a number of shops and was given the same "Nope, not around here. We all sort of do our own thing. There are a couple of group rides, though." I checked out the "group" rides and quickly found that they were for competitive racers, not social rides. I wanted to take a bike ride and grab a beer. That was it. Not here. Or so I thought... I stopped in to a shop called The Broken Spoke and it was exactly what I was looking for. Commuters who work in the shop, they mainly ride single speed/fixie bikes but they also have cargo bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, etc. They do a ride every Thursday called the "Friday Fixie Ride" to which I asked, "Can I still come even if I don't have a fixed gear bike?" The guys said simply "Sure. The ride isn't on Friday, so you don't need a fixie." I popped out one night with them and had a great time. It's about a 10-15 mile ride, followed by everyone grabbing pizza and beer at this local joint. It's EXACTLY what I wanted.

One of the days I was in the shop, I noticed a flyer for a Culinary Ride (www.culinaryride.com). This is a charity ride of either 22 miles or 55 miles to promote local, sustainable, HEALTHY food from Iowa farmers for lunches and breakfasts for the kids at Iowa public schools. I'm very much a proponent of local, in-season, good food for everyone and the public education system isn't always so great You pay a donation of around $30, get a t-shirt, and ride to different local farms and sample their goods. I chose to do the 22 mile ride as it would be my longest ride to date, the hills here in Iowa City are BRUTAL and I recently was diagnosed with sports-induced asthma and I've been awaiting my medical records to be transferred here to get my inhaler.

At 9:30 am Sunday September 18th, a really crappy day I have to say, I struck out for the 3 mile ride to the meeting spot to be there by 10. It was rainy and cold. It wasn't pouring, but that cold rain/mist/constant spray in your face that sometimes occurs. It was only about 50 degrees out as well. But, I wanted to be there for this ride. It meant a lot to me to be able to contribute to the cause. I dressed was warm as possible - leg warmers, merino wool cycling cap, a merino wool long sleeved bike jersey, my rain coat (which helps cut out water and wind and keeping heat in thereby heating me up, but itself isn't warm), merino wool socks, a pair of cycling capris, and I brought some gloves just in case. I also wore a backpack, and didn't use my panniers, as having a bag on your back helps keep heat.

Our meet up place was Earth Source Gardens, a 2 acre plot of land supported by the local food co-op, New Pioneer Food Co-op. If you're in Iowa City and are reading this, PLEASE join this co-op. They rock. It's only 60 bucks for a lifetime membership/rewards program, and if you leave decide to be done with them, they give you the 60 back. Earth Source Gardens is the community garden they sponsor, and there is a LOT growing there. I don't believe you have to be a member of the co-op to have a plot. I'd guess that it helps when you apply for one, but it's not required.

     Earth Source Gardens Entrance Sign       The volunteer tent from New Pioneer

One really nice thing is that I had spoken to some people from the Thursday night rides I had been on, and a couple of the group, a guy named Al and a girl named Andrea, were going to be at the ride, though they were both doing the 55 mile ride. Al showed up around 10:30 and he introduced me to his friend. I believe his name was Sam? I was still trying to wake up, I admit. The volunteer tent was run by the Co-op and they had hummus, pita slices, lemonade, water, carrot and radish slices, and these poppy seed/sesame seed/ sunflower seed brittle pastry things. I didn't eat those as I'm sunflower seed sensitive and I didn't want to run into any problems on the road. We all took tours of the gardens looking at all the great veggies that were growing. I asked one of the organizers about the route we 22 milers were going to take, as the map was hand drawn and in black and white and the first leg of the trip was shared by both groups. It was hard to tell where we were supposed to go. It turned out that we were just going out and back - 9 miles one way and 9 back - so really only 18. The organizers had no idea at first, and had to discuss. That should have been my red flag. But I was happy and still warm at this point, so I smiled and went about my merry way.

Al (left) and his friend head into the garden to tour it 
 The tool shed we all hung out near while getting ready to ride.
My bike is on the right, with the black helmet on the back.

At 11, the organizer came out and told us to go ahead and start going towards the first destination whenever we felt like it. This is when things sort of went downhill. I will start by saying I had fun. I would do this again. I really did have fun at the locations and in the beginning before we rode. Things weren't great, though. Everyone took off towards the first point, which was 9 miles East of us along The Hoover Highway... The Hoover Highway is a 2 lane road with no shoulder that cars drive 55mph minimum... Not great to ride as a large bike group without police escort or a lot of vehicle escorts. Especially in the rain and grey weather. There was a "Sag-Wagon," though that followed us to the location that had tools for working on bikes, or if you needed to you could put your bike in the trailer and hop inside to ride the rest of the way to the location. Great idea, in my opinion, especially when inviting all levels of cyclists to a large event.

We all made it to our first location, though, a place called Scattergood farms. This place was so cool. It's a school farm. They teach children normal subjects, but then they also have the children work on the farm. They harvest the food, cook the food and eat the food from the farm for every meal at school. It's really cool. Check them out for more info - http://www.scattergood.org/farm_prairie


They gave us a quick tour of their place, let us pick raspberries from their bushes, and then took us all back over to a warm, incredible, though small, fire. There were some chefs from local place Devotay and they served us hot vegetable soup from the Scattergood gardens and yellow watermelon. It was fantastic!! I started talking to one of the gents whose daughter used to be at the school and is now at Cornell on a full ride. Clearly, the school works.

** Just a small note here. Cows are assholes. Seriously. The whole time the guy was giving us a tour, the cows from the farm were following our group behind the fence mooing up a storm. Then the guy would stop talking, they'd get quiet, so he'd start again. As soon as he started, this one cow would just get every other cow riled up again. Jerks. :P**

It was about that time I noticed everyone was gone... The 55 milers had taken off a good bit ago, as they still had a long ride, on mostly gravel roads, left to go. They were going to a cider joint (both hard and soft), a couple more farms, and it made sense that they'd take off. But the after party wasn't until 6, and we'd been at Scattergood for maybe 20 minutes, after arriving at 11:30-ish. I checked my watch, and it was about noon. I looked around and all of the 22milers had pretty much taken off. "Oh well, I said, the winery that's our next and final stop before heading back is only 1 mile West, back towards Earth Source. I'll see everyone there." I thanked the farmers and cooks and took off to the Brick Arch Winery in West Branch, Iowa (http://www.brickarchwinery.com/). I got there a few moments later and lo-and-behold.... Not a damn person. No one was there. I guess the 22 milers either decided to switch rides, or they did their wine tasting in about 30 seconds and left.

I went inside after 2 of the volunteers and a few more cyclists showed up. We all went in and tasted some wine. I tried the reds, as I typically prefer reds. WARNING: THIS IS THE ONLY TIME I'M GOING TO TALK ABOUT WINE ON THIS BLOG. EVER. Sorry Mandy and David ;) The wine was good, but I'm no wino so I really don't know a thing about it. I just drank it and enjoyed it and politely smiled and nodded when the woman told me all about the subtle hints of edam cheese and strawberries. Beats the hell outta me. It was good, that's all I know. The inside of the place was nice, too. We were confined to the main area where the wine bar is, as most of us had cleats on for cycling and they would scuff up the nice floors. There was a sign (I failed to take a picture of) that said anyone caught wearing bike cleats in the room pictures below (same spot, the left picture was me turned to the left, and the right picture was me looking straight on) would be beaten. I avoided those rooms, minus standing in the doorway for the pictures.

At 12:45 I left. I was done and didn't want to drink too much before riding back 8 miles. This is when the ride began to suck... When I left, no one else left. Either they had already gone and were done, or they were still drinking wine. "No big deal," I thought, "I'll see some more cyclists out there. There's always the sag wagon. I'm sure I won't be riding alone." Wrong. Dead. Flippin'. Wrong.

I didn't see a single soul until I got back to my apartment. The Sag Wagon was supposed to circulate through the ride to make sure everyone was ok. What it really did was follow the 55 milers to every stop they made and then stay at the stop until it was time to move on. I was under the impression that it was supposed to be for both groups and help everyone out. I figured it would follow the 55 milers to their stop, turn around and go back to Earth Source and then go back to the 55 milers, to ensure that the whole route was covered. Nope. They just went to the next stop, got out and had a good time. Unfortunately for me, on the last leg of the trip my chain decided 3 times that it no longer liked the front  derailleur and would pop off, prompting me to stop my bike and fix my chain. On the highway. With no shoulder. With speeding trucks and cars. Fortunately it's a relatively easy fix. But what if it hadn't been an easy fix? What if I got hurt or had an asthma attack? What if my bottom bracket broke? What if my chain broke? I'd have to walk my bike back the miles that remained, or I'd have had to call my roommate and hope he was around and sober (It was his birthday) enough to come get me. A trucker even stopped one time and asked if I needed help. I politely thanked him with a smile and said I had it just fine, but thanks. 

Ok, so the sag wagon was sort of a let down. What about all of those riders? Never saw a one. Even though I stopped 3 times on my way back, no one passed me. And when I got back to Earth Source? Not a person to be found. The tents were gone and the remaining food and water had been placed in the toolshed for us to finish. That's not a huge deal, but it would have been nice to at least have someone there. There was nothing. It really felt like if you didn't do the 55 mile ride, you were a let down and you just got to tag a long for a bit but then it was time for the big kids to play, so you had to go home. They even sent us all a survey to take today and there were only 5 questions, 1 being a general comments box. The first 2 questions were "what did you like? What didn't you like?" The 3rd question was the only one that actually pertained to the ride and it was "Did you like riding on gravel or would you prefer pavement next time?" I'm sorry, I didn't ride gravel. I was on the 22 mile ride, NOT the 55 mile ride. I know they don't mean it that way, but damn, if even the survey questions ignore the 22 mile ride? The ride was hard for me, but fun. The people were fantastic. The food and locations were great, and I totally understand that the 22 milers only got to go to 2 places - they were the only 2 on our route. The weather stunk, but who cares? It really was the attitude of the event itself - and not from the riders. No one was nasty at all, even the organizers. Everyone was super happy and really into the cause. It really was just that the 22 mile ride really felt like an add-on when someone said "Hey, what if people can't do the 55 mile ride? They should be included, too." I hope that when they do this again, I'll be able to do the 55 mile ride and that the 22 mile ride will be considered a bit more.

One nice thing at the very end was right before Earth Source Gardens there was a farm house and they had this beauty on display outside.
Why, yes, that IS a purple tutu on this rhino statue.

I have realized now that I don't really like super long rides. Maybe on a different day I would love a 55 mile ride, but I've realized I really just like to commute a few miles. I like city riding and the challenges it brings. We'll see where cycling takes me, though. It's nice to just be on the bike and have your feet actually locked in to the pedals, your legs an actual extension of the simple machines that make the bike move. It's a simple, elegant, beautiful system and I will go where the wheels take me. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My First Brew - A Leviathanesque Task!

A few months back I decided that I really really wanted to start brewing my own beer. I had been looking over different kits and different sites until a few weeks back when Northern Brewer (www.northernbrewer.com) was doing a sale on their deluxe homebrew kit. Normally it was $159.99 with the 2 better bottle plastic carboys, but they were taking 40% off, making it just over $100 with shipping and tax. I couldn't pass it up anymore!

Last week I started my first brew, a rye stout extract kit from Northern Brewer. I decided to use this kit because a stout tends to be more forgiving, winter is approaching and stouts are great for winter, and to be honest, I love the shit out of some stouts. It comes with a chocolate rye grain, Simpson's black malt, Simpson's dark crystal, and some special hops called "Warrior." This beer is a bad mutha already, just based on the stuff that went in! I mean look at those names. Are you kidding me? I've decided to name it Leviathan because of the huge flavor profile that it's going to end up with, a pseudo-ode to one of my favorite albums (Leviathan by Mastodon) that has a lot of hard-hitting guitar and bass riffs, punchy, intense drums and some heavy growling vocals. Great album, great band.

It was a lot of fun to make and pretty easy. In fact, it's very similar to making boxed macaroni and cheese, only it takes hours instead of minutes. I had to boil the extract and hops first. It takes forever. For the first 20 minutes, I steeped the crushed grain in a mesh bag then removed the grain and brought the pot to a boil. The mesh bag is the "sock" thing there in the picture below. 

Then I added the extract and dissolved it in the steeped liquid. I brought it back to a boil, and let me tell you - 3 gallons of thick syrupy liquid takes forever to get rolling. It smelled awesome at this point. Joe, my roommate, kept saying he wanted chocolate chip cookies. I added the warrior hops, which are really designed more for IPAs and such, and my wort (what the beer before fermentation is called) really started to smell like beer. 60 minutes later, the wort was ready to cool.

Cooling about 3 gallons of wort that's been boiling for an hour is no easy feat. It has to cool to about 70 degrees in order for the yeast to be added. I initially put the pot in the sink and ran some water on it, but that didn't work so well. Then I tried plugging the sink and adding a 10lb bag of ice, mixed with water to cool it. It sort of worked but the ice was melting really fast and nothing was cooling. Then I remembered a show I had seen once about how to cool beer quickly if you had guests coming over and the beer wasn't cold yet. They tested out putting the beer in the freezer, putting it on ice, putting it in ice water and putting it in ice salt-water. The salt-water got the beer nice and cold in about 40 minutes supposedly because the salt lowers the freezing temperature of the water. I had no idea if this was going to work for cooling my wort, but I had to try something! I added a bunch of left over sea salt to the water, and sure enough in about 30 minutes the boil kettle with the wort was cool enough to transfer to my tub for further cooling. I should mention I live in a small apartment and don't have a lot of space, so putting the boil kettle in a CLEAN (I emphasize clean here, because yes, I know what most people's reactions are going to be) bathtub with cold water. In about another 15 minutes, the wort was cool enough to pour into the 6g carboy.

I got the water and wort, a total of 5 gallons, into the sanitized 6 gallon carboy and I added my yeast culture. I used Wyeast 1056 American Ale for this. Earlier in the day (about 3 hours before brewing began) I started the culture up by smacking the pack to release the nutrient pack and get the yeast growing. They start off like a vacuum sealed pack. After a few hours of growth and gas production, the yeast pack looks like this:

That baby is ready to explode!!! I aseptically (sterilely, if you will) got the yeast into the wort. I took my specific gravity and got a reading of 1.056. The starting specific gravity (SG; it's OG for the initial reading and FG for final) of the kit should be close to 1.054, so I was pretty close (only I wasn't quite correct, as I'll explain in a minute). In a nutshell, the specific gravity is how dense the beer is. It gives you a readout of the alcohol content and how far along fermentation is. I sealed the carboy with the blow-off tubing, swirled it around a bit to aerate the mixture and get the yeast all nice and happy, covered the carboy to protect it from light and was good to go! 

A couple of notes here. Light, of any kind, ruins beer. Ever had a skunky beer? That's partly because of light. Chances are it's because of light in the bottling process, not the fermentation process as most huge breweries use large stainless steel fermenters that prevent light from getting in. Also, that's why beer in clear glass or green glass tend to be skunkier than brown glass - ever notice how all the great, expensive beer always comes in brown glass or completely opaque bottles? That's why. Also, most great beer comes with pry-off tops, not twist off, because air ruins beer, too. 
The blow off tubing is used for the first few days of primary fermentation because during that time, there is a HUGE release of gas and energy and the wort bubbles and foams and spits and all kind of stuff, so the tubing allows for a release point for everything so the carboy doesn't go boom. There are fermentation locks which are used for subsequent steps, but they clog and get all nasty during the first steps of primary fermentation, meaning you have to clean them and that just opens the door for more oxygen and microbes to get in a ruin the beer!

Here was my set up as of 2 days ago:

Ok, so here's when things get tricky. About 3 days ago, I noticed that I couldn't hear the bubbling of fermentation anymore. At all. The first few days all I could hear from my bathroom was "Glub glub glub" of the gas leaving the blow-off tube into the sanitizer (done this way so that no air gets back into the tube, ruining the beer). Yesterday I went and removed the towel and noticed that the krausen, or foamy head, had gone away. 1 week in and my yeast had stopped fermenting! OH NO! I switched out the blow-off tube to the smaller, more sensitive fermenter lock. I did some reading and question asking, and it turns out, 1 week is typical for primary fermentation, but not guaranteed. Sometimes it takes up to 2 weeks. After that, the krausen falls back into the solution and it's time to take a SG reading. I did some MORE reading and found out that for beer the best fermentation happens at 60-70 degrees F. Our apartment has been consistently between 70 and 80 degrees F, and too high of a temperature results in really heavy alcohol flavors, more like everclear than beer. I was starting to get really worried last night and today. I looked back at my original specific gravity of 1.056 and found out that hydrometers (the instruments you read SG with) are optimized for 60 degrees F, and that any differing temperature has to be taken into account for the SG reading. My OG was actually closer to 1.060 or 1.062. That doesn't sound like much, and in reality it's not awful, but my heart sank. I thought my beer was done for. The combination of no bubbling, miscalculated specific gravity, and the temperature had me certain I had ruined my first batch of beer. Me, a microbiologist, can't even brew beer. I was pretty unhappy. 

Not to worry though! I took some suggestions and read my specific gravity today when I got home. It was 1.017, which is really really close to the FG that I was expecting to end up with (somewhere near 1.015). My primary fermentation was over, that's why the vigorous bubbling and frothing had ended. I sanitized my 5g carboy and decided to go ahead and do a secondary fermentation. A secondary fermentation is when you siphon off the beer after the initial fermentation to reduce the amount of yeast sediment (dead yeast, gluten, etc.) that sinks to the bottom of the carboy during primary fermentation. The main reason is to clean up the taste of the beer, making more pure and less "yeasty."Some people and some recipes even go for a tertiary fermentation. I'm not there yet, though. 

Here's what the sediment looks like:

The one on the left is the sludge with a bit of the beer left in during the siphoning process. The one on the right is once it's nothing but sludge. It looks like melted ice cream, doesn't it? I can assure you it's nothing like ice cream, unless you want sour beer ice cream. There was probably a good 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch worth of sludge at the bottom. Those yeast grew like hell, apparently.

Here's the secondary fermentation set up. I put my 6g carboy from the primary fermentation set up on the counter and used an auto-siphon to get the beer into the smaller 5g carboy on the floor. I also put paper towels in sanitizer and put them over the tops of the carboys to prevent any contaminants from getting in.

I took a sample before I siphoned the beer, and it tastes really good! I mean, it's good for warm, flat beer that still has yeast floating around in it... 

Next up - bottling! I have about a week in secondary fermentation, then I am going to bottle the beer and bottle ferment it for about 2 weeks. Then it'll be ready to drink! 4 weeks total - not too bad, I have to say. 

Monday, September 12, 2011


Stay awhile and listen...

I'm Adam. I'm a Southern boy who lives in Iowa City. I'm a 4th yearPhD student in microbiology at the University of Iowa. This is my blog. Dum dum duuuuummmm...

KAPOW! And here we go :)

I like to ride bikes. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. In fact, I gave my fiancee my car and bought a really nice bike to commute with. It's fantastic. I promise. It's a bit hard here in Iowa City for me, though. For the last year I've been commuting in Minneapolis, MN where I was in school. My boss transferred here to Iowa, so I came with him. Long story short, Minneapolis is flat. Like really flat. Almost Florida flat. Iowa City? Not so much... This place is in river country. Hills like WOAH! I'm still adjusting... This blog is a way for me to sort of chronicle my bicycling journey.

Bike culture is fine and dandy and I do enjoy it. Who doesn't like the Tour de France?? It's ok, a lot of people don't either. I happen to love it now that I ride more. I must admit, while I enjoy watching the races themselves, I'm not much of a racer. I really enjoy riding, but I don't want to compete. I just like the ride itself. There is one particular part of biking culture that I do happen to enjoy most thoroughly... BEER!!!

That's right, folks, cyclists like beer. A lot. There's a whole world of cyclists and beer out there. I happen to think it's great. Who doesn't want to take a wonderful cross-town trip on a great sunny day and then finish it up with a cold craft brew? No one, that's who. Not even you naysayers.

That's my other, albeit new, hobby. I make beer at home. That's the other part of what this blog is about. I'm going to chronicle my bike trips and my beer making. I hope you enjoy it. I'm going to review bike stuff, bike shops, bike repair, talk about bike trips and routes, and I'll probably rant about bike safety and my interactions with cars and other cyclists. I'll talk about basic brewing as I'm learning it and show off some of my finalized products. I'm a micro nerd, too, so from time to time expect a bit about science that doesn't necessarily pertain to beer or bikes.

I hope y'all enjoy!