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Burping and Bubbling Into the Future

22 Sep

January was my last post? Seriously? Good lord. I mean, I’ve been busy!

Uhhh… hi.

So, I managed to get married to Dylan in June and obviously, that’s the biggest thing. The second biggest, is that we served a fantastic homebrew at our reception. Dylan received a gift card to a local homebrew store and used it to replenish his setup from years prior, then picked up a coffee porter ingredient kit while he was there. We bought some bottles and caps online and one night about six weeks before the wedding, began the process. We had a cool May so we got lucky that the temperature in his apartment was amiable for fermentation and racking, but before that we brewed some coffee per the recipe…

Ok, this was my first time witnessing a homebrew process so I remained quiet for the most part. I knew however, that the recipe was already way off from what I thought it should be in the first reading. They called for 96 oz. of coffee brewed with the equivalent of about 2 tablespoons of grounds. For those counting at home, that is an entire pot of coffee with enough grounds to brew about a cup, two if you like it weak. No way, man. Also, we kind of screwed up at first, to be honest, and forgot to buy really good beans. We wound up with an unopened bag of Costco roast, which brewed weak considering the recipe called for weak to begin with. Immediate tweaking was needed, but in the effort to stay true to the recipe we’d not tried before, we stuck with instructions. Dylan emailed the authors the next day and asked what the deal was. They insisted that this small amount of coffee was correct, and it would manifest in the nose more than the flavor. Well… that’s not what we want, we want something that would give Surly’s Coffee Bender a run for its money.

Dylan went to a different homebrew store here in Chicago and talked to the guys there (much more helpful, much cooler). They suggested that yes, while that is a very low amount of coffee, the flavor could be built by the use of straight up coffee beans or strong brew added during racking. We debated, he used his knowledge from previous brew experiences, and decided to wrap some beans in cheesecloth and add them to the final stage, prior to bottling. I kept getting updates to the tune of, “oh man this smells good”, “this beer is gonna be great!” etc. We kept our fingers crossed. I’ll be honest and tell you that I don’t remember if we tried it before the reception or not, I’m pretty sure we must have, but all we knew is that we had 36 bottles only and the bar (it was a DIY reception, we supplied the drinks and the caterer supplied the food and bartender) had to pour 5 oz. cups of our beer or it would run out before we even showed up after pictures around town.

The ceremony was perfect, the photos were great, everything was lovely. We were introduced, we said a quick thanks to our guests, clinked and smooched, and almost immediately my lady beer group made their ways over excited and chatty, full beers in hand. Our beers. Our label-less homebrew of which there were only 36 bottles. Erm, make that about 23 at this point, my girls are boozers. I asked if they were offered small pours, unanimously they shook their heads no. Turns out, the liquor delivery didn’t include the cups, which never made it to the final invoice along with the mead with which we intended to toast our wedding party. Ah well, that’s what it was for, right? So I or someone asked the bar to be sure to set four bottles aside: one for our caterer, one for my dear friend who is like a dad to me who also brews, one to split that evening (though I wound up with a whole one), and one to drink on our first anniversary. Otherwise, that was it. Bottles and beer, gone. Sigh. Everyone loved it, but man did they go fast.

It did turn out very well for an edited first attempt. It lacked roundness, we decided. It was more coffee than beer (not that it’s a bad thing) but the deep porter characteristic itself was a little lost. Still, it was very solid and didn’t taste at all like some of the coffee beers out there that are clearly more syrup than bean, or are more beer than coffee. It was a fairly respectable ABV for how big the flavor was, I think it came out in the low 6% range.

Fast forward three months later: We’re in a studio now and there is literally nowhere to brew, so there won’t be another attempt unless our forthcoming apartment has a quiet, undisturbed and slightly cold corner. If it does, or even a porch or anteroom, we’ll have a go at a stout before spring comes again. I’m looking forward to that one. Oatmeal? Oaked? Peanut Butter? Who’s to say.

In the meantime, we’ve talked about brewing in small spaces and all the little issues that can occur there. I’ve been diving into blogs and articles that specifically address those concerns. Check them out:
The Apartment Brewer
BYO, Homebrew Magazine
The Kitchn

So for now, we patiently wait for Dylan to start and finish school then start his illustrious career in IT (hurrah for job placement!) and then we wait even more for our kitchen to materialize and brewing to begin again. There are no photos of the beer, I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but our photographer did manage to get this fortuitous shot: beer as well as one of my beer club enjoying their (full) pours…
crafty girlsAnd just for kicks, this was our cake. Because magical animal.

Penny+Dylan-cake
See you sooner than nine months from now. Promise. xo

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Real Surly

1 Mar

Hi there. I’m still gathering my notes from Cleveland, they were rather extensive, so once I have them in some order I’ll post. Also, IT’S FINALLY MARCH! March 2012 was the warmest on record in Chicago and while it’s snowing as I type this, I know that by the end of this month something will be blooming and that first whiff of spring air will send everybody bouncing happily around town. Fingers crossed, everybody.

Today I want to talk about a brewery called Surly because tomorrow at 2pm I will be entering a bar three blocks north and ordering several of their best option: Coffee Bender. The anticipation is causing me to watch the clock like it’s the last day of school and I’m making myself nuts. Especially because it’s Saturday night, it’s only 7 pm, and I have no plans.

surly_girl_logoA little back story: Surly is a lovely, rather small brewery just outside of Minneapolis. I had the great fortune to visit last December and it was one of the better tours and tastings I’ve been to. They’re tucked away in a neighborhood right off a major highway but you might as well be in the sticks. No curbs and gutters, pickup trucks, etc. but as it happens, that brewery has ingrained themselves with their neighbors and the city, maybe even the state, to the point that they pulled out of the major market of Chicago just so they could keep up demand in their hometown. How stand up is that! They had to pass a new law or two that would allow them to build an on-site tasting room next to the brewery which will change the way Minnesota brews from now on. They cleared the location and myriad concerns with their neighbors, and continue to seal the deal by throwing block parties wherein they supply the food and drink, all in surrounding blocks attend. They help with snow removal and small municipal hitches, all to keep the peace. Everybody wins. It might be one of the happiest blocks on earth.

Surly is no different from every other brewery you may have toured. They put the mouthiest, funniest guy on staff in charge of the tours and let him go, beer in hand (and encourages you to get one too, he’ll even give you a break halfway through to let you pee and get another). He dons the standard-issue brewery work shirt with his name stitched on, he tells stories about the build, the equipment, the area, the laws, how their wives and girlfriends are as much to thank for support as the people who drink the beer, and how everyone else’s jobs sure must suck because he gets to do this. Aside from particular elements akin to each brewery, those talks are almost always the same. Every now and again you get someone talking about how beer is made, where it comes from, etc. but the better tours contain the stories of inception (most of which begin with one guy’s burping, bubbling, amateur system in his basement and its ensuing disasters).

Centrifugal force filtration system at Surly Brewing, Minneapolis

Centrifugal force filtration system at Surly Brewing, Minneapolis

There will always be those guys, too. D&D dorks of beer, and you can spot them in every crowd. They wait until the exact moment to ask about canning vs. bottling, hop varietals and shortages, centrifugal filtration systems (hot), water purification methods, malt roasting times, etc. and they are at every single brewery. You get the feeling that, right along with the brewers, these were science club dorks that never really found a niche until they discovered very good beer. And you know what? I admire them, they found a cool, somewhat mainstream outlet that lets them truly nerd out and make people happy in the process. Good on you, geeks.

T2013-11-30 17.41.43he taproom is fairly standard, metal tube furniture and high top tables, a few flat screen televisions on the wall, tile floor, and that rust red paint on the walls. A wooden bar with two sets of tap lines, and a big room of merch for sale off to one side. The tap list I’m sure rotates regularly but when I was there, they were definitely preparing for winter. Lots of stouts, dark ales, spices, chilis, and smoke. I had the Dumpster Fire which while very interesting was way too chili heavy for the pint that was served (12 oz or snifter, I’d have suggested), and in truth I choked down the last three ounces. I also had the Misanthrope which for you sour fans, is probably the beer you’ve been waiting for your whole lives. And while I know for sure I had one more and knowing me it was probably dark, I can’t tell you which. My friend Martin had three I didn’t have, so all together I tried the majority of the list. We here in Chicago get Furious regularly now so I didn’t bother with it (not my favorite).

Enter: my favorite, Coffee Bender (5.1 ABV, $6 16 oz can). This beer has all the things I want in life, at 10 am on a Tuesday. It tastes first and foremost, like coffee. Cold pressed, Coffee_Benderamazing quality coffee. Then the malty, mildly hoppy brown ale comes in. The creamy head acts like the crema from an expertly-pulled cup of espresso. Every sip elicits a sexy half-closed eyelid and a languid, “Mmmmmmmm” from my softening posture. It is a beer I want to slow dance with. It’s rich while being effervescent, slow while delivering that definite coffee punch, and if it was socially acceptable I would pour an entire pint can into my to go mug rather than the brewed Kenya I have in the container on my counter. Truly, it is one of the most beloved beers on my Top Five Desert Island Beers List. It’s not always easy to find, but I completely recommend seeking it out because if you love coffee, if you love dark beers, and if you love America, this is the beer you’ve been searching for and never even knew it.

Find it in your area at Beer Menus (but change the location, that’s set for Chicago). The prices can be shocking, though I suspect it’s cheaper in your neck of the woods, thanks to Chicago’s taxes. Our prices range anywhere from $6-9 per pint can, and four packs anywhere from $10.99 – $16.99.

Next up: I can finally let you in on a secret that’s been in the works for almost a year! Ladies in Chicago who love beer, drop me a line with your contact information or keep an eye out. We have you covered (finally)!

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