James Joyce

I’m in Clipper City, at James Joyce, drinking James Joyce Amber by Clipper City Brew Co (now known as Heavy Seas). A perfect match! For a mild day in Baltimore, this is really the best. Pretty golden color, crisp taste. Slight sweet maltiness. I love saying this: high drinkability! Ha. Nice beer.

I have yet to meet a Heavy Seas beer I didn’t love. Makes this Baltimore girl proud!

If you are ever in downtown Baltimore, check out James Joyce for a perfectly poured beer, a nice scotch, and some good old Irish hospitality.

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Mistakes Shall Not Go Unposted!

Siiigh. Okey dokey. So although Sweet Dead Lion provided me with a hilarious and wonderful brew-day, it produced a less-than-wonderful brew. I’m actually going to toss part of the batch. And I feel downright embarrassed that, in my excitement, I shared it with a few friends before a true and honest taste test.

I don’t like drinking it and neither does well, anyone! It was bound to happen, there was so much drinking and laughing going on on brewing day, hahahaha. Shout out to Jen! Next time we’ll nail it.

My assessment of the brew is as follows:

  1. Look: So pretty! Rich black with a nice thick and long lasting caramel colored head. promising, but deceiving.
  2. Smell: Not terrible. a little sweet. At this point I’m starting to get molasses and (icky!) pecan indications.
  3. Taste: This is where things go downhill. It’s just a few ticks too sweet, and then I am immediately overwhelmed by a bitter burnt flavor (not a nice hop bitterness). Ugh. I can distinctly taste the (too) strong black molasses and the seriously icky pecan extract. Fakey fake!
  4. Feel: Here it’s not so great either. Kinda syrupy. Carbonation is ok.
  5. Overall: FAIL! What good is a beer that doesn’t taste good!?

So what went wrong? From what I can tell, these were my major major mistakes.

  • I remember thinking that maybe we’d not stirred often and early enough after we added the extract and molasses. We laughed and wondered if we’d burned the batch but forged ahead! This would definitely account for the burnt flavor.
  • Too much molasses. Definitely. Less would have been great for a more subtle flavor and sweetness.
  • Pecan ick. I will never use a strong extract like that again! Next time (oh yes, there WILL be a next time!) I will simply roast the pecans and dunk them using a nylon bag for the last few minutes.

How sad, this one never even got a label.

I post this in honour (British spelling) of my dear sweet sister, who posts her mishaps proudly.

On to the next!

Beer is on the Way

So many beers! So I recently discovered that my own dear sister and brother-in-law also brew. We were discussing the not so finer points one day and decided that the only way to really have homebrew at the ready all the time is to brew without ceasing! So in that spirit, I have two going now. Well actually I had two and I bottled one the other day. Time for another 🙂

My method so far has been to add one new technique or level of complexity to my skills with every batch. So for the porter I brewed a few weeks ago, I went off the map and added a tin of molasses, not exactly knowing what that would do to things. For the next batch, a special bitter, I used dried extract instead of syrup in addition to the mini mash.

I do have some concerns with these two batches though.

One: the porter. This is my Sweet Dead Lion brew. It was originally the Southern ‘Gent, named for the molasses and pecans that went into the brewpot. At the homebrew store, I picked up some pecan extract as well, (it was in the “pecan porter” recipe I used as a template). Well, I was a little hesitant to throw it in, it smelled so buttery and strong. So I only put half an oz. in the entire 5.25 gal batch. But after a quick taste test, I fear even that was too much! Dang it! I don’t want a syrupy buttery beer. Who does? This is how I learn. Time will tell. Those 51 bottles are just mellowing out now. And I wait.

Two: the special bitter. Ever since I first read a chapter on “Great Beers of the World,” I’ve been intrigued by the classic English “special bitter” style ale. Just something about it. What I’ve read has formed a lovely idea in my mind. A delicious, medium colored, medium bodied, not too sweet, not too bitter, mellow ale. (Oddly, “bitterness” is not usually a characteristic of the bitter ales, how funny). Well, I used a recipe from the Complete Joy of Homebrewing and with a little help from my friends at the homebrew store, I got all the ingredients and more. I was so excited about it. But then, I got maybe a little too excited and added just a tiny bit of lavender in the last two minutes of the boil, for an herbacious aroma. Again with adding things, this is such a rooky post! I tasted it after only 6 days (probably a terrible time for a taste test). It was of course, warm and flat, and cloudy and not at all “beer-like.” But I knew those things would be true, and I tuned my buds to taste past all that, and determine if the true essence of the beer would yield… well, happiness. But argh. I just don’t know if I liked the lavender. Again, time will tell. And she waits.

She Brews, She Bakes: It’s all about the “Yeastie Beasties”

Last weekend my friend Jen came over to help brew a batch of porter (Sweet Dead Lion), and we were reading from the best brewing book of all time, just admiring the way that Charlie Papazian respects the life of each individual yeast. Jen referred to the little guys as “Yeastie Beasties.” We decided to make a few loaves of bread while we were at it, and they turned out great (hope the porter turns out as great!) She asked me to share the recipe, so here it is:

Yeastie Beastie Rosemary Bread
Makes 2 big loaves

1. In a large ceramic bowl, combine without mixing:

  • 3 c warm water (body temp)
  • 1.5 Tbsp dry bread yeast(ie beasties)
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/4 c honey

2. Sift together in another bowl:

  • 5 c bread flour
  • 1.5 c all purpose flour
  • 1.5 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1/4 c flax seed meal, cornmeal, or wheat bran (optional)
  • a handful of rosemary

3. Gently stir the wet ingredients, then pour the dry into the wet while mixing with a wooden spoon.

4. Fold the mixture together until combined into a large “shaggy” looking ball.

5. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let sit (away from drafts) for 1.5 – 2 hours.

6. Once it’s doubled in size, sprinkle the dough with flour, flour hands, and cut in two with a sharp knife on a floured board. “Cloak” each loaf by holding in one hand and tucking the overhanging dough to the bottom a few times.

7. Line a cookie sheet with parchment (or place a baking stone in the cool oven).

8. Pre-heat oven to 400ºF.

9. Place the loaves on the cookie sheet (or on a pizza paddle dusted with plenty of cornmeal). Let sit for 40 min under plastic or a damp kitchen towel.

10. Before placing in the oven, sprinkle each loaf with coarse salt, dust with flour, and slash the tops 1/4″ deep with a serrated knife.

11. Place in the middle rack of the hot oven, with 1 c of hot water in a tray below.

12. Bake with steam for 45 min or until tops are golden.  The loaves should have a very hard exterior (this will soften as they cool).

(lucky) 13. Cool on a rack before slicing, and enjoy!

*Tip! You can put any kind of herb in this recipe in place of or in addition to the rosemary.

*Another Tip! And for a sweeter breakfast style loaf, try leaving out the rosemary and adding a few Tbsp of melted butter, a little molasses, and some chopped nuts to the mix.

Sweet Dead Lion (a.k.a. “Southern ‘Gent”)

What’s better than making a fantastic batch of porter all by yourself? Making a fantastic batch of porter with a great friend, of course! Last week, my friend Jen came over and we had many a home brew while we cooked up a (soon to be) lovely porter.

This one was inspired by my better half, Mudcat. He’s a southern gentlemen from south Mississippi. So for this brew, we added two of his favorite southern ingredients, pecans and molasses. I’d been dreaming of making this batch “The Southern ‘Gent” for some time.

But of course, the spontaneous fun of brewing day took on a life of its own, and this crazy porter developed an alias! As I mentioned, Jen and I were having several  home brews, and maybe a few research porters. We started examining all the ingredients on the counter (after all, this is the only activity I get to do that involves a test tube!).

Well, the packaging on the Scottish molasses just had us baffled. It was a tin of Lyle’s Black Treacle. The picture and message were just so mysterious! A drawing of a sleeping (dead?) lion with flies all around, and under the lion it reads “Out of the strong came forth sweetness.”

Gross! We suspected this was some kind of sick decomposition reference.

The beer immediately became our little “Sweet Dead Lion.” Hilarious! (To us).

But the label just continued to intrigue us… and I finally got to the bottom of it by reading this blog. The lion IS indeed dead! Woah, I had kinda hoped he was just sleeping there. But the flies are actually bees. The whole thing is a biblical reference, from the story of Samson.

So there we have it. The batch has bubbled away and is almost read to rack. I’m a little sad not to not call it “Southern ‘Gent,” I was attached to the name… but come on! “Sweet Dead Lion” has just the right mix of demented bizarre hilarity and ring-to-the-ear. Maybe I’ll make art on the label look like a southern gentleman and still name it Sweet Dead Lion for no explicable reason.

Highlights of brewing the first batch of Sweet Dead Lion:

  1. Jen is an experienced lady brewer… she started brewing when she was super young (… ahem… 21 of course) and is just a super gal. We had a really great time gabbing, adding this and that, drinking, stirring the vat of brew in the bathtub. Brew with a friend, it’s awesome!
  2. We strayed from the recipe and added that crazy molasses! This made the mixture more dense, (it had a starting gravity of 1.074 instead of 1.053). I honestly have no worries about how it will change the batch. I think it could be 1) more alcoholic and 2) sweeter. No complaints there.
  3. We added true Texas hill country pecans from Leakey, TX. I think that’s really going to do a lot for the beer. I might still add the pecan extract before brewing, as directed in the recipe. But I’ve got to believe that  the real nuts will provide real… nuts… to the beer. A few pieces were not strained out but I think we can avoid getting them in the secondary fermenter.

Milk=Glue

Yup. It totally works. I was searching around for a cheap easy adhesive for my Bennie’s labels and came across the milk concept. No instructions, just a guy on a forum saying Milk Milk Milk.  So I tried it. And it is perfection. It is super simple and cheap, provides a really smooth finish to the label and comes off easily. Perfect for the home brewer or brewess!