The 2014 Page Valley Road Race

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sunday Brew Chores

Dryhopping the Honey Porter with
frozen Willamette hops.
It's atypical for me to have more than one batch of beer going at any given time, but these days I am in a hurry to use my fresh hops. I remain very worried about how they are stored - I didn't have time to oast them, so I simply froze them fresh.  They are very perishable, so I am worried about the impact to them from this unusual handling - there is a photo below.

I have fresh hops from a couple of sources this year - there is the harvest that Bill gave me, which consists of six batches' worth of Cascades, and there is the small amount of Willamettes that Mary picked from our backyard plant.  

I've been using the Cascades in a series of Black IPA brews, as I've posted in the "Brewing with Fresh Cascades" series.  My plan was to dryhop my latest batch of Honey Porter with the Willamettes.

Here's how the Willamettes looked
coming out of the freezer.  I had to use
them quickly!

The two batches going on right now are a Honey Porter, which is one of my go-to brews, and the Black Widow IPA, which is the recipe I have been using with the frozen Cascades hops.  On Sunday, the Honey Porter had been in primary for just about two weeks, and the Black Widow had been in primary for a week.  My chore was to move them both into secondary.

It's not a difficult process - but process is the key word here.  There is a ton of sanitizing that has to be done, and then careful siphoning between carboys.  A key step is taking a sample to measure fermentation progress - this is done with a thermometer and hydrometer - and record-keeping.

For the Honey Porter batch, since fermentation had progressed pretty far already, I will probably only leave it in secondary for a few days.  The Black Widow will stay in for about two weeks before I bottle it, which is the next step, in fact, washing and sanitizing bottles is another one of the chores I'll be doing today.

The brew record for the current batch
of Black Widow IPA - sitting at about
7.10% ABV on 10/18.
This is the record for the Honey Porter
batch - it's at 5.78% ABV.
Closing the post, here are photos of my records for the two batches, showing both the brew cycle and progress through Sunday.  At bottling time, a final measurement of gravity and temperature takes place, and the I calculate the estimated alcohol by volume, or ABV, for each batch.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Battle of the Species: More Snakes at Work

Back in 2009 or so, I was sampling one of neighbor Dan's harvest brews in October, and I remarked that it seemed like it had been a while since I had seen a snake around Hawksbill Cabin.  Dan said that if it was going to happen that year, it would be right around this time, because, "...the snakes are on the move."

Last Friday I wrote about the little brown snake that we'd seen moving along the sidewalk out front of the office.  That little critter, at no more than five inches long, was barely noticeable - he was even smaller than the ring neck snakes I've seen sometimes at the cabin (that link will take you to a post about them, with a couple of photos)...however, he was the precursor to the monster we found laying across the threshold to our building on Friday - a four-foot black rat snake.

This encounter was typical of my experience with black rat snakes, which are nonvenomous and very common.  The colleague who discovered it didn't even notice the snake as he stepped into the building - he only noticed after he had opened the sliding glass door and it closed behind him, which put the snake on alert.  The raised head and kinked body position seen in the photo above are part of the snake's defensive posture - they won't generally bite, but they will fight by striking and biting if cornered, and that is the next step after the pose seen here.

Since I have a well-earned reputation for chronicling encounters with snakes, my friend came in to tell me about the snake.  We went back out to have a closer look, which resulted in the photo above (readers should understand the photo was taken from at least six feet away and has been enhanced with an iPhone app, lol).

It wasn't long afterwards that the snake figured it had gotten enough attention, and it slithered away.  Eventually it climbed the brick wall near the door, over behind a downspout - headed for some of the vents up there or perhaps to the roof.

Our building is close to the property boundary and some of the adjoining land is owned by the National Park Service - so nature can go pretty wild back there.  That's what I attribute our reptilian population to, anyhow.  This is the fourth time I've seen a snake somewhere in the building, between the brown snake, this black rat snake, and garter snakes on two separate occasions a few years back.

If any of my coworkers are reading this, I'd like to reassure them that all four of the snakes I have seen around were nonvenomous, so really there isn't much to fear, and that is a good explanation for why we don't have rats or mice.  A second important thing to think about is this:  I've seen four snakes...just imagine how many of them we haven't seen and don't know about that are crawling around the place.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Little Brown Snake

My current workplace is located in a residential neighborhood up in Bethesda.  We back up to a plot of National Park Service land, so sometimes we benefit from a unique proximity to wild life.

And so it was that last Thursday I was outside the building making a phone call when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye.  Looking closer, I found a little brownish colored snake, only about four or five inches long.

The coloring made me look closely - there's a pattern of black dots.  My first worry was that maybe I was looking at a baby copperhead, but further research proved that wrong.

This is a brown snake. There's a link below to the Peterson First Guides book on reptiles and amphibians, where I found this description of the little snake:

This is a small, secretive snake, brown and usually with two parallel rows of blackish spots down its back,  Young ones have a conspicuous yellowish collar and are generally darker than adults...brown snakes frequently turned up in parks, cemeteries, empty lots...they are such good hiders that few people are familiar with them..."

From the description, this tiny little snake is an adult, since the markings behind its head are tan and not yellow.  My photo has it straddling a sidewalk crack, to give a sense of the scale.  The guidebook says they are are often from 9-21 inches in length.

Here's a link to the guidebook I used:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One for the Berliners - Brewing Memories

While I was busy brewing on Sunday, Mary took Tessie out for a walk.  As it happened, that was during the boil – when the wort begins to give off those wonderful smells mixed in with the steam evaporating from the kettle.  My brewing enterprise is still small scale enough that I can do it in the kitchen, and when I do, I turn on the vent fan over the stove.

Mary came back from the walk and told me that the neighborhood smelled like a brewery.  That was delightful to hear…and of course, it brought back a fond memory of my USAF time at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin – there had been a small Schultheiss brewery nearby, and in the morning we frequently would be greeted by the smell of boiling wort.

Google Earth map of Tempelhof Airport environs, in Berlin, Germany

After a little bit of sleuthing, I came up with additional information from the Google about the little brewery…I was surprised by this first link (note, it is a link to a preview page of the book “Last Flight from Tempelhof” – written by an Air Force friend), coming up as result number 3, which mentions the smell of the nearby brewery.

Here's a photo from Google Earth of the old brewery.
As I navigated the area on Google Earth, I found a few photos of the old brewery.  I remember when I first discovered it when I lived there – on spring mornings I would walk back to Tempelhof from the Mehringdam U-bahn station through the Kruezberg park, and I found the old brewery back there along the cobblestone sidewalk. 

Another Google Earth photo, showing the operations and
trades shops for the brewery.

According to this Wikipedia article, the brewery ceased operations in 1994.  Schultheiss now has a larger modern facility in what used to be East Berlin, actually to the northeast of the old site and Tempelhof field.     

From Google Earth "streetview," here is a photo
of the old Schultheiss malt factory.
Another link I found outlined a walking tour of the Tempelhof District.  That one mentions an old malting factory that was west of the airfield, and south of the brewery.  The presence of this facility was news to me, and I am glad that there was a street view photo of it!

Thus, another connection to brewing is discovered, I guess!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Brewing with Fresh Cascades - Chapter 2

When brewing with "leaf" hops I use poly muslin bags to minimize the
need to filter stray flowers in later stages of brewing.
They say home brewers are creative, and I guess that’s why I consider each batch of beer that I brew with the Cascade hops Bill grew in his backyard an experiment.  The theory is only confirmed by a conversation I had with Dan recently after he told me he planned to use some honey that his dad collected in Alaska and stored years ago in a brown ale.  That batch will be all grain – pretty advanced stuff – in addition to crafty…I’m looking forward to a sample.

Meanwhile, my investigations are moving in parallel, focused on perfecting a couple of different brews so that I can experiment with different hops to see what I get.  So far, I’m on my third batch of Black IPA – which I’ve named the Black Widow series:  

  1. Black Widow IPA #1 – this was brewed according to the Northern Brewer recipe, including Magnum, Chinook, and Centennial hops, then dry hopped with some of Bills Cascade from last year’s crop;
  2.  Black Widow IPA #2 – this was the first batch I brewed with the fresh hops we picked at Bill’s place in August (check out the links at the end of this post), which is dry hopped in secondary with packaged Cascades; and
  3. Here's the first pour of Black Widow IPA #2.
  4. Black Widow IPA #3 – this batch was a weekend project just brewed on Sunday, and currently in primary – the recipe is the same but the difference between batch 2 and batch 3 will be the storage time I had the fresh hops frozen, as I used the hops in batch 2 within three weeks of picking them and in batch 3 about two months afterwards.

Batch 2 has been in conditioned the bottle long enough that I tasted it over the weekend. These batches are fresh hop brews, which reminds me of the efforts by the Old Dominion Hops Co-op to establish a hops industry in Virginia.  Those guys recommend starting small, and since the harvest doesn’t yet have the scale to merit some post-harvest processing, the focus is on selling the fresh hops to local brewers who will use them right away in a seasonal brew.

These are the spent hops from Black Widow IPA #3.
Here’s a quote from an article earlier this year in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

"While brewers want to be supportive of the local product, quality and price are business considerations. Hops straight from the bines, or “wet hops,” must be used quickly — a good thing in capturing flavor and aroma for special brews. But for year-round beers, pellet hops purchased in bulk with analysis of acids and oils go a long way toward ensuring consistency and control costs."

I guess the Black Widow series is my own small-scale experiment with the concept. 

Here are links to those earlier posts about Bill’s hops.