Friday, March 13, 2015

Homebrewligan Keezer (Kegerator if it's a fridge you have!)

Hole saw next to attempted hole.
We are in the process of building on a bar to the back of our place, something that can be used for small events at the Bn'B.  We've named it The Bird Blind Bar because we mostly use the enormous 5 1/2 x 8 foot window that looks into the backyard garden for birding...whilst having an alcoholic beverage or two.  So, for months now, I've been using a fairly large portion of my paycheck to purchase the parts and finally got them all and convinced my buddy Adam to help me put it together for the obligatory East Side Pie and beers.  He had the essential tools: a hole saw, the drill and the gumption needed to bore through solid metal.  Beer is a great motivator.

This photo shows what several minutes of right handed pressure looks was actually smoking and I was worried that when it finally pushed through, the force would break the plastic backing that lines the interior of the chest freezer.  For those of you who might not know the terminology, a keezer is simply a chest freezer (in my case a Holiday brand) that has been converted into a keg beer dispensing a refrigerator that does the same is referred to as a kegerator.  Once the kiddos were off to college, we really didn't have a need for a large freezer, but having draught beer at home for company, or for events, has been a real fantasy!  (Oh heck, it's a fantasy--parties not necessary.)  This isn't a quick DIY project though, unless your resources and time are limitless...this has been a plan in the making and as you will see, still isn't quite there.  But is it worth it? Of course it is!
Adam and I work at the Austin Home Brew Supply together and he's been brewing for nearly a decade... mead, wine, beer etc and he writes the blog for the store and is the customer service guru.  A good friend to have! Plus he has a heart of gold and a wicked sense of humor...add beer and pizza to the mix and you might think this project would soon head south...but we're a 'get it done' team!  As you can see, he eventually burst through for the double tower, and went onto the second hole, which took half the time!  I lined the hole with duct tape to prevent the scratchy metal from rubbing the tubing and also for extra insulation.   The second hole is for a single draft tower...mostly to accommodate  the folks who don't like beer with an alternative: cider, mead, kombucha or maybe a wine cooler...something like that.  
 You can see that the next step is screwing and securing the draft towers...this happened very quick!  The two towers are made by different companies and if you're going to try something like this, I suggest you pull everything out of the box and check them out.  The double draft tower in my set was much nicer, having shorter pointed screws that hid the installment, whereas the other tap had 5 inch, flat tipped screws that required pre-drilling and harbor ugly bolts that both protrude into the keezer.  Only I see them, but still...they're ugly and awkward and a pain to install.
The Cluster "Fuggle" inside the Keezer...
Here's the mess that's inside.  3 kegs (2 Cornelius and one Pin-lock) along with the CO2 cannister which is a fracking nightmare to adjust.  The CO2 regulator doesn't have a knob like I'd assumed they all had.  It has to be adjusted via flathead screwdriver...and as you can see, with the snug's a pain in the backside.  The next step is to try and figure out how to bore through the wall and put the CO2 on the outside so I can adjust it more easily.  This is really no small matter.  Drilling through the top of the freezer is easy by comparison because there are no coils in the lid...I'm still trying to find a map of the coils so that when we drill through the side, for the shank, we don't hit something!  For the time being, it takes two people to adjust and get the dang thing out of the spaghetti hole of beer line and CO2 tubing...again, is it worth it?  Hell yeah!
Fatboy "Bud" Floyd slurping up the beer suds!
The great thing is that the timing was perfecto...I had two homebrews ready to keg and to do that effectively was a new game for me.  Finding a PSI chart online is easy enough, because if you ask 10 homebrewers what's the serving rate, carbonation rate and time or any such technical question you will get a different answer from each Homebrewligan! The above photo is my El Dorado double hopped IPA that I made some 5 weeks ago and it was ready to drink...but needed to cool and carb.  Fatboy, my beer loving Boston Terrier was happy to help clean any spillage that occurred, he's great that way.  The other was my first completely solo recipe that I was inspired to create for my friend Marc Opperman who gave me a mess of organic Republic of Texas oranges!  I call that one The Republic of Tejas Orange Ale and it smells divine!

There you have it, the Keezer was the course of an afternoon.  The beer was ready, so we loaded everything up and poured a sample...a warm but tasty brew to celebrate!  This isn't an over the top difficult project to do, but I was very, very grateful to have Adam's help...he answers the phone at AHS, and helps folks through such projects on a daily basis...which is good for you and was great for me!  Some gals love shoes, diamonds, fancy dinners etc...but to me, this is pure luxury!  Cheers!
Adam Lipscomb of AHS! the last drop!  Currently, we've made a melomel for the third tap next year, but are also making an organic hard cider to put on tap as soon as it's ready!

Happy home brewing and Cheers!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beer Necessities' Sarah Eshelman

Sarah Eshelman of Beer Necessities
Sarah is the energy behind Beer Necessities, a ladies only beer connoisseur Meetup group that started last September and has grown to 80+ women aged 22-69 in just 5 months.

I had lunch with Sarah last week to talk about the group and propose some linked events with Austin Bed & Brew and Austin HomeBrew Supply.  She rode her bike to my place to see the Bn'B, then we raced to my favorite local craft beer spot Black Star Co-op ...I drove.  It was a tie.  She's that fast.

I went to the second meeting after stumbling upon a notice in my Facebook feed.  The invitation was to meet at Craft Pride for a "women in the industry forum."  I had never heard of a "Meetup" or visited the popular Rainey Street area and had no idea what to expect.  I was early and got to watch people slowly file in, get a beer and recognize other lone-women.  We had about an hour to visit, then the 4 person panel began with introductions and a Q & A. It was very informative and fun!

I knew no one but found it quite easy to talk with other women about the fabulous beer selection, brewing process and our interest in meeting other women who find beer our beverage of choice.  The group is large but has a core group of about 25 that show up to the events.  Sarah keeps the events varied and the locations moving. It turns out that the first meeting was at her favorite spot, Hopfields just a few weeks before.  Events run the gamut of activities from informative gatherings at breweries or pubs to activities like March 7th's Twisted X run benefiting Thundering Paws Animal Sanctuary in Dripping Springs; this past Monday night's gathering at Which Craft for a pairing of Boozy's Cupcakes with craft beer and the upcoming home brewing demonstration at AHS.

I asked Sarah how this all came about and it turns out that she was visiting a friend in Chicago, who is part of the 'mother' Beer Necessities group started there by Rachelle Matz.  When Sarah got back to Austin she decided that we needed a group like this here.  She checked in with our local Bitch Beer guru, Caroline Wallace to make sure something similar didn't already exist...and so it began.

Recognizing the need for a group like this is only part of its success, most of it is due to Sarah's efforts, stellar personality, and the fact that she's really very knowledgeable and sincere about her love of the elixir known as beer.  Sarah attributes her interest in beer to her father, Robert.  She describes him as a "North Carolina Hop-head."   His work took him to Belgium several times a year and with each visit he became more excited about rare beers and shared his stories with his eldest.  They're a beer drinking team and he comes to Austin to hang out with she and her friends reveling in the array of delectable beers we have here to savor.  He's fond of saying "I got my daughter into beer, but she's surpassed me."  With the whirlpool of activities she organizes, I'd most probably have to agree with him.

So, just who is Sarah Eshelman?  A dynamic RTVF, UT grad working as a producer, editor and consultant for various organizations and her own  She's a strong, uber healthy beer fan, thinker and a true feminist who sees the changing landscape of women in a positive light and recognizes that the majority of our group have self-opted out of the traditional female role-motherhood.  The older ladies in the group, myself included, mostly have grown children but the younger to middle range have opted out.
Sarah loves 512 Brewing Co. and when I asked her about her favorite "backup beer" she went on a roll: Founder's Dirty Bastard, Rahr's Iron Thistle, coffee beers, Scotch Ales etc. etc. Since we were at Black Star I asked about her favorite house beer and she said "any of the Dockhand series."  She basically loves variety and adventure and sharing her love of beer with other women!

I always look forward to the Meetup, even though they occur more than I can attend...usually twice monthly. If you have ideas or interest in Beer Necessities, follow the link and get involved!  Sarah has home brewed in the past and plans to get back to it soon...she's a gem!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fat Tuesday with Fett Vater (Fat Daddy) Homebrewligan Extraordinaire!

Good morning beer fans and a Happy Mardi Gras to you!  I'm currently sipping on one of my own beer-gone-bad concoctions, it's my Lavender Saison, a recipe from Austin Home Brew Supply that I decided to "doll up" with an infused tea from all of the fresh organic lavender plants that I had in full bloom at the time.  The result:  a beer that pulls back the memory of having your mouth washed out with soap....only with a high alcohol content, which barely makes up for the burps that follow.  My fix, which is actually one of my favorite breakfast drinks now, is to juice a Texas Ruby Red grapefruit and top it off with the aforementioned disaster.  It's bright, fresh and goes with any of your more delectable breakfast foods.  I had a 3 minute poached egg atop one slice of dark brown rye, toasted with cream cheese, thinly sliced red onion, lox, capers and fresh squeezed lemon.  Perfection, if I do say so myself.  Which brings up something I've been milling over...breakfast beers?  What is your favorite?  I was going to share this concept with some my co-workers when I got shut down by their opinion that a breakfast beer was dark and brewed with coffee.  I held my tongue, but I'll speak my mind here.  Don't mess with coffee in the morning.  I like mine strong and organic with full-on 1/2 and 1/2.  I like a coffee porter in the afternoon when I'm getting pooped.  But I like coffee in the morning, to be just  Feel free to share your thoughts!  There is no wrong answer.  Beer-good.

Anyway...back to the present blog.  It's been way too long since I sat down to bang out a few musings  on brewing and quite a bit has happened since last I did.  Namely, I began working at the home brew store here in Austin and have brewed many a beer since and have slowly been using my whole paychecks to purchase the pieces to convert my chest freezer into a keezer.  The affable fellow I'm writing about today is the reason I got hired, is the source for inspiration and help with the keezer and one of my newest favorite people in town.  Adam writes the blog for us at Austin Home Brew Supply and has been brewing for 9 years.  

The thing about home brewers that I love is the absolute uniqueness of their process and their being.  The more I get to know them the more it is absolutely impossible to categorize them...not that I would aim to do so, but it's like the adage about brewing itself: if you ask 10 homebrewers a question, expect 10 or more different answers.

Adam knows so much about beer it's insane.  Yet, he admittedly says that when it comes to brewing, he mostly does it off the cuff...and that's what I wanted to observe.

Adam and Django on the deck, straining da beer.
I showed up around 1 in the afternoon and he had everything sanitized and the propane set up on the back deck. We popped open a few beerz and got started, while listening to Megan Lynch (new to me and man what a voiceand talking about well, everything.

Adam's first homebrew was a Shiner Bock clone, something I can hardly imagine him drinking now,  the reason being, he knew the taste and wanted to judge his home brewing accordingly.  He sez it was drinkable.  I've yet to brew a bock so what do I know?   He brews a few times a month and picks something up new from the grocery store each week...which is one of the great things about beer culture right many new beers to explore and love!  Yes, I'll have another, thanks!

I'm going backward in time with these photos,  sparging on the left and the glorious wort on the right.
By the time we got to this stage though, I was keeping up with Adam on the beers and as strong of liver that I am, I forgot to take notes or anything...doi.
Sure, I'll have another beer.
Adam and I are both parents and we swap war stories occasionally and he keeps us in stitches at work with tales of his youngest, Danger Boy.  When I asked Adam the obligatory question all home brewers wanna you have a disaster brew story?  Adam had more than one...this alone might deter the average novice, but not Adam.  He learned the hard way the value of proper sterilization and had to replace all of his plastic tubing.  Another time he used the chloramine rich city tap water, creating a lovely old band aid off flavor.  Ew.   But the best story, the one I'm sure I'll never-ever hear again involves Danger Boy.  I get a kick out the antics of Danger boy...things horrifically scary like when he opened up the gas line on the propane tank and let it all drain out, or when he sliced open the outdoor hose and turned the water on...there wasn't an explosion and Adam caught the water before flooding under the house...but the attack on beer is too much, and, should be a warning to all folks who have imps and tricksters as spawn.  Danger Boy simply popped off the air lock and poured catfood into the precious beer, spoiling it for homebrewligans and felines everywhere.  Hide your beer, place it out of reach, do whatever is necessary!  Still, Adam brews.  Why yes, I'd like just one more!  

I had a fantastic time, laughed so much and drank so much I hardly remembered to ask all the questions I'd come with, but this last moment cracked me up most because of the shear joy of being squirted unexpectedly!  We both got it in the face!

There will be more Adam blogs to come...I love his beer, and I love his Home Brewery name...Fett Vater, Fat Daddy or Big Daddy...which fits in perfectly on this most hedonistic of silly holidays!  Thank you for the fun and for letting me hang out and learn more about brew and more about you!

Adam and the Mrs. at Flying Saucer

Adam is a sci-fi fan and loves to give his beers names that spin off of his favorite stories and characters.  The first beer I had of his was C3PA, and on this day he brewed an El Dorado hop-heavy IPA...I'm still waiting to hear the name he'll bless it with!  Adam blogs at Austin Home Brew Supply and does customer support.  He and Melissa live in Round Rock, both have theatre backgrounds and are currently engaged in raising some very interesting and talented kiddos.  They're such a great couple!  

Happy home brewing and...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Heiress to the Brewer's Throne...Ms. Christine Celis

Ms. Christine Celis of Gypsy Collaborations
I had the accidental fortune of running into Christine Celis at Sunrise Minimart which is just up the street from our Bed n' Brew and I simply, really.  I read the Bitch Beer book "Capital City on Tap" and got the background scoop on her father Pierre Celis, who brought his belgian style witbier to the U.S.  I had that beer when I first moved to Austin in the mid 90's and it was a refreshing break from the limited palette of Shiner, Zeigenbock, Lone Star and the ilk.  It brought back fond memories of hanging out at Scholtz Biergarten in the dog days of August, just before school began.

Christine came to Texas when she was 29 and has been here ever since, returning to Belgium twice a year to visit her mother.  The Celis Brewery had a successful run, opening in '92 when Pierre introduced his award winning coriander and orange peel wit bier to the U.S.  The little brewery had trouble keeping up with demand and was eventually bought out by Miller Brewing Co. where it took a nose dive into mediocrity.   At that point it was sold to Michigan Brewing Co. and dismantled.  Very sad story.  Christine lost her dad in 2011 at the age of 86 and has since been inspired to bring back the refreshing style that put the Celis family on the Beer map.

A few years ago she ran into Kim Clark, the young UT grad that her father had hired and sent back to Belgium to study Belgian brewing, at the airport.  They decided that they should make a go of it and try to bring back the name and style in honor of Pierre.  In the meantime, Christine and Kim are doing collaborative works with various breweries here in Texas, before they take the Gypsy label out of state!  All the while Christine has been buying back her dad's original brewing equipment and scouting new locations for Christine Celis Brewery to be opening...soon!

So, I met her on Tuesday...and we had a fantastic conversation there in the Minimart and she graciously invited me to Uncle Billy's for the unveiling of her newest creation, a dubbel coffee porter...a la belgian-style on Thursday could I not go?  Porter, is not my favorite style.  I don't like sweet beer, or sweet coffee, or sweet chocolate.  But the thing that gets to me most is the maple syrup feel.  I have to say that this beer has none of that.  She explained at length about how they made the small batch and put coffee in a pair of panty hose and stirred it around but kept removing it and tasting, along the way, keeping time all the while, until they got the balance they wanted.  Not too overpowering with the bitter coffee, yet keeping a rich flavor with the 5 different malted grains.
The arrangement of grains and hops used for the porter.

On Sunday afternoon a group that I've just recently joined called "Beer Necessities," a ladies beer aficionado club here in Austin and in Chicago, was meeting at Uncle Billy's to have a forum with Christine and Kim Clark to talk about beer, their plans, and their new creation.
We had a chance to listen to their stories, taste the grains and have a few glasses of Gypsy Porter.  I liked it even better a few days later.  It really stands out to me--a lover of Belgian style beers, IPAs, sours and other clean-crisp, yet flavorful concoctions--as different and improved.  
Kim Clark, Master Brewer

Kim Clark was hand picked by Pierre Celis and he sent her back to his hometown to learn Belgian style brewing years ago.  Clark, a graduate of UT with a degree in Microbiology said that she just feels so lucky that he saw in her "potential" so the idea that beer brewing is a man's business, wasn't something she'd ever experienced.  Christine says that her dad always surrounded himself with smart women because he was aware of the fact that women have more taste buds than men.  She and Christine decided that they wanted to reignite the Celis passion for Belgian beers and they are working towards the goal of their own brewery, invoking the memory of Pierre and his wonderful recipes.  
Christine and I at Uncle Billy's
I am excited about the plans for a woman owned and operated brewery here in Austin!  May Ninkasi (Goddess of beer and alcohol) bless this endeavor!
Cheers, and Happy Home brewing!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Homebrewers Chris and Whitney, A Dynamic Duo!

  This past week was Austin Beer Week and Saturday was a particularly interesting day with lots of Homebrew educational opportunities.  Adam Lipscomb of Austin Homebrew Supply did 2 demos in the parking lot, there was a south Austin demo at a private home, the Dewberry's along with other Homebrew Celebrities were featured at a Homebrew Forum at Craft Pride and I attended the north Austin Homebrew demo at the home of Chris Rauschuber and his lovely wife Whitney Roberts, off Duval Road.  Another Austin Zealots member Brian Reynolds, showed up with a smaller, mobile unit and brewed in the driveway.

  I arrived early, which was good because by the time things got going there were so many interesting people to talk to that the atmosphere became one of sheer delight and well...a fantastic beer garden party!
Before that happened though, I got to talk with the couple a little about where they were going with their brewing, and they are most definitely brewing up a plan!

  Whitney, who's from Dallas and attended SMU was sitting at the picnic table out front studying for her upcoming Cicerone test.   She currently works as the operations manager of the Austin Brew Bus Tour Company.  Chris, whose day job is with Homeaway, was laying everything out for guests and preparing to brew.   Together they are the perfect host/hostess combination of graciousness plus brew & brew-business know-how.

  Chris started brewing over 9 years ago, after one year of doing mini-mash he turned to all grain brewing.  He prefers malty German style beer but has vowed to keep something on tap for Whitney at all times-what a guy!  Here is his very impressive set up:

This is when, as a novice home brewer, you realize you are completely out of your element.  The name of this rig is a 20 gallon "Boiler Maker" and he ordered it from Austin Homebrew Supply.  It's supplied with natural gas and an octopus of tubes connect the various vats for easy transfer, cooling etc.  I imagine that had I not gotten totally distracted  by some pretty fascinating folks, I could have learned a hell of a lot, but I am a newbie and I'm not in a hurry.  What I love about the homebrewing community, though I don't know if this is everywhere, but certainly in Austin, is that they are the kindest group of helpful folks I've ever come across in any hobby I've tackled.  And anyone who knows me knows that I only stick with things 2-5 years, or as long as it takes to get to a proficient level.  Yes, I've made art always, and will always have an organic garden and will always knit/crochet in winter, but the beer making hobby, seems to be more of a lifestyle. The friendships I'm observing developed through the love of brewing appear to run very deep.

Have a second look at the tap wall above.  All along the top are medals and other awards; the ribbons just fly away so they're kept indoors.  There are 6 taps on a  chalkboard 1.) Barrel Aged Imperial Stout 14%! 2.) Oktoberfest 6.4% 3.) Munich Helles 4.9% 4.) Nelson Pale Ale and 5.) Nelson + Citra 4.7% and  6.) a Smoked Altbier 6.0%, that he brewed for Whitney's Birthday.  The two of them will be pouring their Helles and the Smoked Altbier at the
 Austin Home Brew Festival  on November 15th at the Getaway Motor Club.  It'll be my first time to attend such an event!   Today he's brewing a Dunkelweizen, and the smell is like fresh bread!  I's easy to get distracted in this room though...whiskey barrel on the floor, various kegs, their feisty rescue dog Jack and just out of sight to the left is his computer--he's an immaculate record keeper.  (Note to self:  what the heck, I'm so fly by night, this is going to be a challenge!)
What I didn't have the thought to ask, but what Whitney clearly saw that I needed to understand is...what's behind the wall?

The cold room!  Tons of beer on shelves, in kegs, in boxes, the mothership of the operation...essentially.
Below you'll see the connections behind the taps with all of the various gauges and readings...this is Chris's world, and it's great!  He designed it and hired a contractor to help him build it...the ultimate party-bar...but more seriously, a calculated logging of past beers and I'm assuming some real gems.

This is Chris's second brewing location...he used to brew out back on his porch, which he called it "Leaky Porch Brewery," which I like...not much of a chance having that name stolen.  

The couple are clearly one in their passion for exceptional beer and have plans to open a brewpub here in Austin very soon!  With Chris as brewmaster and Whitney, Cicerone and manager extraordinaire, this promises to be a raving success!  I can't wait to scoot up to the bar and have a taste!  Thank you for opening your home and hearts to share your craft and artistry!  Cheers!

Happy Home Brewing!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Much ado about Brew!

I've been getting an overload of information about home brewing and beer in general lately; it's been difficult to decide what to blog about.

There are so many festivals and festivities that it's hard for this old beer braud to keep up...let me try to explain.  From what I can tell, this home brewing hobby is probably the most time consuming, science plus artisan exploration, that I'm quite sure I'll never get bored.  When I moved to Austin 17 years ago this past August, I moved here from a horrid divorce in Dallas, where I left my ex-husband of 7 years, a Frenchman. During our marriage we shared a bottle or two of wine nearly every night.  When I took my first teaching job I met a lovely young lady who invited me to be part of the "Austin Lady Winos" club.  Every other Thursday we met at a member's house, with wine assignment and our own fancy goblet.  A little over a year into this fabulous club of nearly 80 women, I began to notice my absence at work on Fridays and it wasn't a mere wine hangover, but serious sickness.  I went to the doctor and was told that I had developed an allergy to wine, probably the sulfites within the bottles.  So, I quit the group and went back to margaritas and other cocktails.  Still not a fan of the watery slosh most prevalent at picnics and parties.

Enter love of my life, a beer enthusiast and soon to be home brewer.  Now some 14 years later I'm finding myself an empty nester and someone in need of going out to leave the hubby home alone to finish his dissertation without distraction.  It is absolutely impossible to not have a beer related event, happy hour, anniversary, release party, club meeting etc. every single night of the week.

This old gal is beat.

Would I trade it for a more somber evening by the TV  (we don't own one) or with a great book...well maybe the great book with a beer in hand, but then that would spoil the point of developing my palate and learning from the phenomenal group of learned beer aficionados here in Austin, Texas.

Here's this weeks agenda:  Monday night attending the Black Star Coop's member's extravaganza I was beside myself to meet fellow home brewers and home brew celebrities who I found out used to live on my street...the Dewberrys.  The Dewberrys have won the Black Star Home Brew contest, an honor that bestows upon the recipient the pleasure of having the brewery name and make that beer to sell on tap!  Dan is also the techy in charge of a group that I have recently joined and tonight, will attend my first Happy Hour/release party event!  Dan's been a member of the Austin Zealots for over a decade and he and his lovely wife Jolene have graciously accepted my invitation to interview them and hang out with them during their next brew day!  And to think, I almost didn't go!

Last night I attended a new group for me as well, something I stumbled upon while cruising my Facebook wall from the group Bitch Beer.  Reading their book this summer turned me onto our current 52 in 52 challenge.  The group is Beer Necessities, a ladies "Meet Up" something I, being a solo dork most of the time, had never heard of.  The meeting was a ladies beer forum at Craft Pride, again, a new place for me to attend on the stylish and popular Rainey Street area of downtown.  I was the oldest person there, I'm sure of it.  Friday night is Bitch Beer's "Time of the Month" Happy Hour at Hi-Hat.  Followed Saturday afternoon at Fiesta Gardens, the yearly Texas Craft Beer Festival, featuring all 55 craft breweries in Texas.  Of course we have tickets.

See what I mean?  

The thing is that, at each and every one of these events, I learn something new...something that I need to test out on my next batch and it's making me nervous about the outcome of my 25 gallons that are  I almost want to toss it all out and start again...but's beer!  No can do.

All this time, I've been looking at other beer blogs and seeing the snazzy looks of the younger generation's technical capabilities and their already-done up to the minute useful information such as every single event at every single bar/brewery/brew pub in the Central Texas area.  Which leaves me wondering...what do I have to offer?  And, let's face it...if you don't ask yourself this question as a writer/artist...blogger(?) then you are most likely just intellectually masturbating out into the blogosphere...unnecessarily so.

That being said, what I am hoping to accomplish with this modest blog, is nearly the same thing I did with my other blogging endeavors...use this tool as a journal to document my adventures and discoveries while sharing with folks a bit of what going out on a limb, meeting new folks out and about town and inviting oneself into the homes and minds of homebrewers here and now, in what has become, my home town.

I can't wait to meet the Austin Zealots (Zymurgic Enthusiasts of Austin Loosely Organized Through Suds!)

Happy Home Brewing


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fabulous Homebrewligans: Tom Brotherton of Bluebonnet "Home" Brewery

Tom Brotherton at his outdoor brewing station.
  I met Tom several years ago when I managed the Green Garden at Zilker's Botanical Gardens.  He was a volunteer, getting his hours in for his Master Gardener Certification.  He invited my husband and I over for lunch to have me give him some pointers on his huge property in Manchaca, just south of Austin.  At the time, his brewing equipment was in his garage, and I stayed behind to visit with his lovely wife, Annie while he and my husband went out to talk about all things beer.
  Flash forward 5 years and here he is in his hand built and designed outdoor brewing station.  Solo brewing is relatively new to me, and I am absolutely amazed by the attention and devotion of homebrewers and am elated to spend a brew day with anyone willing to share the sacred time it takes to create my favorite elixir.  Tom, is a rare brewer, even among professionals and it was my first experience seeing (other than youtube videos) a whole grain process.  I'll explain more about what makes him unique, soon.  He's been brewing now for 44 years and is on the eve of his 70th year on earth so this particular arrangement of equipment is exciting because I top the charts at 5'2" and lifting 5+ gallons can be challenging.  Tom isn't a fan of injuring his back either so his system is rigged with  3/8th inch quick disconnect tubing which can transfer, pipe hot water to cool or vice-versa without a lot of lifting and pouring.  
  Now, being a gardener, Tom is hypersensitive to the current drought situation  (has let his lawn die, which I'm so proud of him for doing) and he also has a swimming pool (salt water) so he feels a bit of guilt about his carbon footprint.  Being the intelligent and sensitive fellow that he is, he's aware that his brewing is also quite taxing on the water situation so he is as conscious as he can possibly be, pouring water onto plants and spent grains on the compost but also, his cooling tubes drain into the, we joke that at least he's swimming in post production beer water!  All of this is only part of what makes Tom a unique brewer, the bigger and for me, more impressive part is related to his education and passion.  Tom has his masters in Microbiology from Columbia, Missouri and spent his adult life as a hospital administrator, post Vietnam.  He does some things in the process that insure perfect beer that I've just not seen other people do and that's what I'm most excited to share!
  What we're brewing:  Annie's Guinness Stout
  Tom's wife Annie, a retired Episcopalian Priest and certified Hospital Chaplain loves Guinness.  Tom took a clone of the original recipe and after 3 batches, adjusted the recipe to fit Annie's taste perfectly.  He brews this just for her and it's always on tap at Bluebonnet Brewery.  He uses iBrew to log in all of his adjustments, times etc. and stays within 1-2 degrees, points of gravity etc. to insure consistency...always.  He's no fly by the seat of your pants me, forgetting to get the specific gravity, adding things on a sensorial whim without measuring...hoping for the best!  

Mini-mill and grains.

Tom starts his brew day around 9am but really he starts several days earlier, letting the water sit for up to 72hrs and he begins the yeast 24hrs in advance, always.  He collects and cultivates his own yeast and has quite a collection in the fridge.  But, for my part I arrive and we begin grinding the grains in his tiny mill!

Tom's yeast collection.

Here is a sample of some of the yeasts he's got in the fridge...and his eyes light up when talking about it!  On the counter he's got two erlenmeyer flasks with the yeast bubbling away.  He divides the pre-batch in two so if the yeast decide to party, they don't go over the edge.  Everytime he walks by he gives them a little giggle and rejoices in their thriving.

All this is overwhelming to me, a mini-mash girl with less than a hundred gallons to my name so I'm wondering how long this all took him to figure out and what did that learning curve look like...I am an old teacher and we never lose interest in "process."  He tells me that he learned to brew back in 1970 or so from Annie's dad.  They were living in San Diego at the time and homebrewing was illegal, or rather you had to have a licence to brew up to 100 gallons per household, until blessed Jimmy Carter in 1978 passed the homebrew bill, making it okay.  It was the thrill of driving into east L.A. and slinking up to an old warehouse back door in secrecy that made the whole thing irresistible!  The fellow inside had a 55 gallon drum filled with malt extract, that he filled with their mason jars and then took a  brown paper bag and slipped a few handfuls of whole hop flowers in before the cash exchange and getaway.  The yeast they got at the grocery store, the water from the tap.  In the 90's while living in Houston he started toying with mini-mash and when they moved to Hawaii, he went back to whole grain brewing and the current set-up he built in 2002 with stuff  he got mostly from Home Depot.  He's  been brewing, kegging and also making wine all this time.  Right now he's got several fruit trees and 1 year merlot vines on Texas resistant root stalk to Peirce disease in his yard and they got watered via the brewing process!

So, Tom's figured stuff out...and the "stuff" I needed to learn happened without my asking.  In this shot you see Tom carefully removing Elm leaves from the boiling pot.  He calls it "essence of Elm" and doesn't sweat the small stuff.  After all, not much can get past the boil ;)

I've jumped ahead...what you're really looking at is the mash tun, with false bottom that's sparging from the copper system that Tom built himself.

I cannot begin to explain the fabulous smell!  He said he took the tubing and simply scored the base.  This is only one rung of the square apparatus that fills the bucket.
Sparging: rinsing your grain bed.

Here's the part that was so interesting to me...Tom doesn't move beyond this point until the science of converted sugars is complete and how he figures this out is something I, in my humble ignorance, having not taken a chemistry class...ever... was completely amazed by. As soon as the water hit strike temperature of 164 degrees F, it was added to the grain to produce a mash temperature of 154 degrees. Tom then takes his spoon and  puts a drop of the grain water on top of a small amount of iodine that's been placed on a white tile.   Immediately the solution turns deep black in color.  He then explains that when the sugars are converted, the iodine will be syrupy brown and translucent.  Before we drain the bucket and proceed to the boil, he tests the wort again and sure enough the color is as he predicted and it's time to get the boil on to add the hops!  In my brewing, I'm lucky to have remembered the timer!  I am going to do this from now on though!  Sciency-mathy stuff no longer scares me, in fact...I bet if we taught brewing in high schools we'd have a much higher retention rate.  I'm probably preaching to the choir.
Tom's Brew Kit, getting ready to check the wort!
After this stage, the brewing is pretty much the same as my mini-mash except that the finished beer, once cools drains from pretty high up, oxygenating it perfectly, and to save his back he drains 1-2 gallons at a time and leisurely walks it into the refrigerator where it will ferment.  By the time he gets back outside about another gallon or so has drained and he walks it in and, with all the small batch high pouring, the beer is thoroughly blended.  In the fridge he adds the yeast, checks the temperature...around 55degrees and then we get onto the serious business of sampling some of his 5 year old double chocolate whisky stout that's been conditioning in bottles and is dolled out conservatively...what's the rush?  He's got 3 beers on tap: Annie's Stout, a Mexican Lager that he adjusted and then dry hopped...which was excellent and a mock Shiner Black that he's mixed with an American Pale Ale and ginger infused tea.  He's an artist, a chemist and a fabulous Homebrewligan!  Thank you for sharing your time, space, love of brewing and glorious beer!

Tom Brotherton at his Home Brewery in Manchaca, Texas.

This article is going to be the first in a series of meeting Homebrewligans.  If you know someone who is passionate about their brewing and think they should be featured, please leave a comment with contact information.  I'm always up for meeting one of my peoples!

Happy Brewing & Cheers!