The Lusty Owauku: Journey’s End

•May 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

We’ve come a long way and learned a lot, but all good things must come to an end. In what has been the longest relationship I have had with a batch of beer, I can now declare it done. It has been almost six weeks since The Lusty Owauku went into bottles. By any measure, this beer is ready.

Ready for what? To get you drunk, that’s what!

I mean, it’s ready to be sampled, to have its massive depth and interplay of flavors explored and enjoyed to the fullest. Yes, that’s it.

Actually, it’s both.

First of all, this beer is a beast. According to my calculations, it clocks in at an astonishing 10.9% ABV. That is as strong as wine. In my samplings, I have poured it as such, using wine glasses or goblets, rather than beer glasses of any variety. One reason for this is to encourage sipping–when was the last time you saw someone chug out of a wine glass (challenge accepted!) ? Another reason is that the shape  gathers the aroma of this beer, which, in a massive beer like this, contributes much more significantly than, say, a pale lager.

So, this mighty rye imperial stout, which I have dubbed The Lusty Owauku in honor of my frenemy, the inimitable Sam Sykes, and his delightful novels from which its name is derived, is ready for consumption. What can we expect?

You can expect to have your socks knocked off.

As with most imperial stouts, this one pours liquid black, with a fine, thin brown head. Though, when you hold it up to light, you can catch the faintest glimmer of burnt red around the edges of the glass. The aroma has rich, earthy, malty sweetness, backed by the bite of alcohol. When first sipping, you get kicked in the balls by the syrupy sweet malt character of the stout, but as you roll it around your mouth, other flavors announce themselves. First comes the coffee and chocolate notes, then the grassy, earthy bite of the rye, which is by no means strong, but it is there. Then a remarkable spiciness builds on your tongue. It’s so strong that it’s almost begins to burn, and it is a testament to the powerful Summit and Cascade hops used in this recipe. This tempers the syrupy-thick sweetness, but cannot overwhelm it, nor can the powerful note of alcohol each sip brings with it. The finish is sweet and saturating, and leaves you wanting more.

In my estimation, The Lusty Owauku lives up to its namesake. There is a delightful hedonism in this beer, as the interplay of flavors is at once complex and flagrant. There’s so much going on that you could enjoy it for its massive, up-front qualities, or hunt down the subtler flavors in aromas hidden in its depths. Each bottle should be shared with several friends; each will have his or her own unique experience, all in their own way positive.

Well, except for the guy who barfs. But everyone else can laugh at his expense.

And that’s it for The Lusty Owauku. The only thing left to do is to let this beer sit in my basement and mature; its flavor palette will change slightly over the months, and since this beer is so high in alcohol and so strongly hopped, there is no reason it cannot keep for a couple of years. Actually, I don’t see this batch lasting that long, but it’s nice to dream.

And you know what? I was wrong  just then; there is another task I must undertake. I must share this lofty beer with its lofty inspiration. Only then will the journey of The Lusty Owauku be complete. Happily, the beer will keep until that time.

April Refresh!

•April 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Finally, a Sam Adams spring seasonal that doesn’t suck.

While the last several posts have been about my adventures in homebrewing, I would be lying if I said that’s all the beer I had been drinking. I’ve found some really yummy microbrews, including a beer that nearly defies all categorization. But something so momentous happened this spring that I had to discuss it here.

Sam Adams Alpine Spring, their new spring seasonal, is a good beer.

I know, it’s baffling, right? Sam Adams has consistently put out terrible spring beers since, well, I’ve been of legal drinking age and have noticed these things. For the longest time their spring offering was some kind of witbier, and it was plain old gross. A few years ago they switched the offering to the Noble Pils, which was an aggressively hopped lager, whose claim to fame was that it used all major noble hop varieties. Better than the witbier, this was was solidly “meh.”

Now we come to Alpine Spring. The bottle calls it an unfiltered, citrusy lager, and that’s exactly right. It pours golden orange and slighly hazy, and it has a bountiful citrus hop aroma. But’s delightfully crisp and balanced, with slightly sweet malt character, and fine, clean finish. It is well hopped, but not bitter. It’s full-bodied, but not cloying. Gasp and surprise, it is a well-made beer.

So of course you could only get it in February and March.

Now you may be wondering, what’s with the “April Refresh” thing? Well, that’s what we wound up calling Alpine Spring, because we couldn’t remember the name. And we weren’t alone. Some friends called it Irish Mist, Irish Spring, That Beer, and so on. For some reason, even though the beer is good, the name is entirely forgettable.

I’ll definitely be stocking up on this next year, though.

Damn, Hank, You Crazy

•February 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

While The Lusty Owauku continued its long,  slow fermentation, safely sheltered from light and winter’s chill, I was left without homebrew. Then, I got the call. My best friend was getting married and wanted to do his bachelor party sometime in February. Idea!

So, I informed him I would be brewing up a celebratory batch of beer for his bachelor party, and I asked him what kind of beer he would like. His answer?

“Anything that tastes good when you drink it out of a stripper’s asscrack.”

Just kidding! He actually asked for a hefeweizen. A more perfect style I couldn’t ask for; it’s an ale with a quick turnaround time, and it happens to be one of my favorite styles of beer, too. I even had a recipe candidate in mind: Hank’s Hefeweizen!

So, just after The Lusty Owauku went into secondary, I got my brew on again. Nothing exploded this time, and by New Year’s Eve, everything was in bottles and conditioning. I checked carbonation after a week, and we were on our way. Something bothered me, though; at bottling, the finishing gravity was a little high. Not by a large margin, but it was outside the expected range for the beer.

I was, initially, worried that the yeast had attenuated poorly. This usually happens when the yeast population is somehow stressed, either by having too much fermentable wort at hand, or the fermenting temperature being too high or too low. We keep our house between 60 and 68 during the winter (not that we’ve had much of a winter this year), which is right in the sweet spot for ales. I actually have had trouble keeping things cool enough for beer over the summer; I hope to solve this problem by either fermenting down in the basement, or using a temperature controller and an old fridge to hit the sweet spot.

Since I also encountered a similar problem of highish finishing gravity with the American Wheat Beer, I wonder if it’s due to the water I’m using. Since beer is 90% water, the water’s trace mineral content has a huge impact on the finished product. Maybe it’s possible that the water I use lends itself to work better with certain styles of beer over others, and wheat beers require a little extra attention.

At any rate, the final gravity was just a bit outside the norm, so I hadn’t screwed up too badly. I ultimately let Hank chill in my basement until the bachelor party. Fortunately, five weeks in bottles allowed this beer to mature nicely. The generic malty sweetness was replaced with well-developed banana and bubblegum notes, and since I did a five gallon boil again, you actually could detect the hop presence in this beer(no small feat, since the recipe only calls for a single ounce of boiling hops).

It was a huge hit. Everyone attending really enjoyed the beer. In fact, several of them shared with me that whenever they’ve had homebrew in the past, it’s been complete shit, so maybe my beer was just better by comparison.

But then again, it was gone in about an hour, so they were either exceedingly polite or they genuinely liked it. I have never seen five gallons of beer disappear so quickly. I will admit, I took pride in the fact that I was able to show them that homebrew can be delicious.

Even if you don’t drink it out of a stripper’s asscrack.

The Lusty OwKABOOM!

•December 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Lusty Owauku exploded.

Twice.

Y’see, one of the things I’ve now learned about brewing high gravity beers is that the primary fermentation is…vigorous. As the beer ferments, it gains a sludgy, foamy head, called krausen. The more intense the fermentation, the larger this krausen is. Up until the Lusty Owauku, the 1.5 gallons of headspace in my fermentation bukkit has been more than enough for this krausen to fully form, then fall back as fermentation slows.

Not so in this case. On the second day of fermentation, there was sludge in my fermentation lock. It was actually being pushed up by nothing more that the sheer power of the yeast fermenting.

I was clueless, and the lock was still bubbling, so I shrugged it off and went to bed. Some hours later, BANG! The whole house shook.

I will repeat that. The whole house shook.

My wife and I investigate. The lid has been blown sky-high, and there was protobeer and sludge all over the dining room. We groggily cleaned up, I reseated everything, and we went back to bed. Surely, the worst was over?

Of course not.

Two hours later. BANG! This time, there was protobeer on the goddamn ceiling. Oh, how I suffer for my craft. Additionally, the fermentation lock has cracked.

That’s right: there was so much pressure that the fermentation lock has a massive crack running along its length. I was impressed. Horribly annoyed, but impressed.

Clearly, things were not working as it was. So, I grabbed some tubing, another, small bukkit, and created a blowoff system. Essentially, I replaced the fermentation lock with this plastic tube, which led into the bukkit. As the fermentation went nuts, it would push the sludge out through the tube and into the bukkit. Some water in the bukkit ensured that no rogue bacteria or yeast would find their way up the tube.

So, for two additional days, the Lusty Owauku fermented so hard that it pushed sludge out the blowoff tube and into the bukkit. I’d say about a quart of detritus was expelled. Once it died down, I replaced the tube with an extra fermentation lock, and the beer proceeded to ferment away for the next week and change.

Today I put the Lusty Owauku into secondary. It was straightforward; sanitizing my glass carboy, siphon, tubing, and ladle. Why ladle? So that I could measure the gravity of the beer, to see how well it fermented. According to my recipe calculator, my starting gravity was about 1.112, or, ya know, three times higher than an average beer’s starting gravity. The final gravity for this beer should be between 1.029 and 1.035. The actual gravity of the beer as of today? 1.035.

Excuse me while I do a happy dance.

I expect that the gravity will very slowly drop over the next three months, and, at bottling, will end up squarely in the range we want. The first phase is complete, and aside from the explosions, it went well(as an aside, I’ve always wanted to be able to legitimately say something like that).

Oh, and it already tastes amazing. This beer is going to be a frigging beast in three months.

Lusty Owauku 3: The Brewening

•November 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It is done. The Lusty Owauku has been brewed, and it is fermenting like crazy as you read this. Unless you’re reading this months after the fact. In which case, greetings from 2011!

Now, as I said in my previous entry, I needed to significantly expand my equipment loadout to brew an imperial stout, so let’s examine this in further detail, as this equipment and these methods will come to serve my future beermaking endeavors well.

It begins, as always, with the yeast. For beers with high alcohol content, like imperial stouts, IPAs, or even bock lagers, the amount of yeast cells contained in a typical homebrew yeast packet is insufficient to rapidly and fully ferment out. The amount of fermentable sugars is simply too high. So, what’s a girl to do? Make a yeast starter!

The idea here is to get the yeast to actively begin fermentation before you pitch them into your wort. Not only will they have a higher overall population, but they’ll be in an active phase of their life-cycle, and immediately ready to eat sugar and poop alcohol.

The method is simple: you boil a small amount of water and dry malt extract to give the yeast something to eat–an appetizer of sorts. You then cool this starter in a glass beaker or other sealable, cleanable container (you could use one of your beer bottles, for example, although the narrow mouth does introduce practical difficulties). Once the starter has cooled, you add your yeast, cap (but having a way for CO2 to escape, of course), then wait at least 12 hours. You’ll have a vigorous fermentation underway, and you’ll be ready pitch the entire starter into your wort.

Additionally, I’m taking a different approach to the actual boil. Rather than boiling part of the five gallons of water, I’ve boiled all of it. For that, I now have a thirty quart kettle that has the capacity  I need. This introduces a dilly of a pickle: how can I safely and quickly bring down the temperature of five gallons of boiling wort?

A wort chiller! The idea is brilliant: run cold water in a closed loop through the hot wort. It extracts heat as it goes, and in fifteen minutes, your wort has gone from boiling to pitchable. Since the cold water never touches your wort, you never have to worry about contamination, and the quick turnaround minimizes the chances of random infection. It’s colossally easy, and I feel stupid for not having gotten a chiller sooner.

The final addition comes into play during fermentation: brewing an imperial stout or another high-alcohol, high-gravity beer requires what’s known as a two-stage fermentation. Essentially, the beer takes several months to fully ferment, but if you were to leave it in its original fermenter for that time, you’d wind up with a pretty disgusting beer. Why? Because of yeast.

See, yeast can only ferment so much delicious, sweet wort before they, well, die. Actually, they go comatose before they die, but for our purposes, it’s the same thing. When the yeast dies, it settles to the bottom of the vessel, forming a layer of sediment. Anyone who has had a hefeweizen in the bottle has seen phenomenon. The problem, then, is when these hundreds of billions of dead yeast cells sit on the bottom of a fermenter for months, or rather, when the beer sits on top of them for months. Their little decaying yeast bodies release all sorts of chemicals, ruining the flavor of beer. Thus, we need to get the beer off that bed of dead yeast and into what’s known as a secondary fermenter.

The idea is to allow the small amount of yeast still alive in the mostly-fermented beer to continue their task at a comparative snail’s pace. This tends to mellow out the beer, rounding out its flavor profile. Over a period of two to twelve months, depending on the particular style, it undergoes a period of maturation that would be impossible while sitting on a pile of slaughtered yeast effluent.

To that end, I have a glass carboy at the ready. In two weeks’ time, I will transfer The Lusty Owauku from my plastic bukkit to the glass carboy, where it will sit until sometime in February of 2012. Then it goes into bottles, and perhaps by the end of March, it will be ready to drink.

Fuck, that is a long time to wait. But, as a fan and friend of the precocious Sam Sykes, I know my efforts will be appreciated. Some time next spring, I will pour him a goblet of The Lusty Owauku. He will sniff it suspiciously, as his paranoia is boundless, but he will drink all the same. He will pause to savor it, nod sagely, and bestow me with a small, but knowing smile.

“John,” he will say, “you have done well.”

Then he will punch me in the mouth and make obscene gestures at my supine, twitching form. And that’s how I–no, how we all–will know that The Lusty Owauku has properly honored Sam Sykes and his literary creation.

What is The Lusty Owauku?

•September 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“I’d say it’s fermented something, blended with the finest I-don’t-want-to-know and aged for exactly who-gives-a-damn-you-stupid-tit.”

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been researching for The Lusty Owauku, trying to nail down exactly what I want to do with this beer. I’ve explored many avenues, because, well, I want to get this right.

Now, I said that I’d have my ingredient list ready. I’ve gone one better: I have three lists ready.

My baseline for this beer will be Northern Brewer’s Imperial Stout Extract Kit. This is, as it stands, a monstrous beer recipe. Using a beer recipe calculator, the standard recipe produces a beer with 8.8% alcohol! That’s twice as strong as anything I have yet brewed. But, why settle for a run-of-the-mill imperial stout? We want to make The Lusty Owauku stand out!

So, let’s add a bunch of crap to it and see what happens.

My original notion for this beer was to add some heat. Imperial stouts are syrupy-sweet, usually, so they should lend themselves well to adding a bit of heat. It is also my hope that the heat will complement the hop flavor in this beer, but who the hell knows, right?

So, the plan will be to add a single Habanero pepper to the recipe. Specifically, it will be halved and seeded, at added to the beer for the last five days of fermentation. Alcohol actually helps extract the various scorching hot oils from the pepper, meaning that the longer it sits, the hotter the beer gets. Posts I’ve read on the interwebs suggest that you leave the pepper in for no longer than a week, lest you make your beer intolerably hot.

And, were I to leave it at that, I’d have a pretty awesome beer, I’d think. A Habanero-infused imperial stout sounds like one of those weird specialty beers for which you’d expect to pay twelve bucks a bottle. But, god dang it, it just needs more.

Northern Brewer has something interesting on their front page: rye malt extract. Making beer with rye is similar to making beer with wheat, in that both tend to contribute spritzy, spicy flavors–though rye is said to be a little earthier overall.

You can predict where this is heading.

So the first thing I decided to find out was if anyone, anywhere, had ever made a stout with rye. As it turns out, yes. And Bell’s brewery is perhaps the best beer I can’t get here in New Jersey, so I figure we’re good to go on that end. It’s not an imperial stout, but we’re certainly not in totally uncharted waters.

This raises the final problem: do I substitute the rye malt for some of the dark malt, or do I just add it? In the case of the former, the beer recipe calculator suggests that such would raise the final alcohol content up to perhaps 9%. Impressive, but will it upset the balance of the beer? Remember, imperial stouts are strongly hopped, in absolute terms. You just tend not to notice it, as the malts are so dominating.

So, we come to the final possible case: simply add 3.3 pounds of rye malt extract on top of the 12 pounds of dark malt extract and the specialty grains. Doing so results in an astonishing 10.4% alcohol by volume, according to the beer calculator. Surely, that is enough to best even the mighty Sam Sykes? It also, I suspect, upsets the final balance of the beer to the malty, perhaps irredeemably so. Accordingly, I plan on adding up to another half ounce of boiling hops to manage this monster–the final amount will depend on how much water I use in the boil, but we’ll talk about that in more depth in an upcoming post.

So, the final recipe for The Lusty Owauku is:

  • 12 lb Dark Malt Extract Syrup
  • 3.3 lb Rye Malt Extract Syrup
  • 0.5 lb Black Patent Malt
  • 0.5 lb Chocolate Malt
  • 0.5 lb Roasted Barley
  • Up to 2.5 Oz Summit hops (boil)
  • 2 Oz Cascade Hops (finishing)
  • 1 halved and seeded Habanero pepper (last 5 days of fermentation)

The fermentation process will take approximately 4 months. I plan on leaving the beer bottled for 4 weeks before trying, so total time from boil to glass is about 5 months. For a high-alcohol beer like this one, that’s perfectly reasonable and acceptable. In theory, if there’s no contamination or such, and the bottles are stored in a cool, dry, dark place, this beer could last several years.

But, of course, that kind of defeats the purpose, now doesn’t it? Regardless, we have our recipe. Up next, we shall examine the additional equipment I’m going to use to bring The Lusty Owauku to life.

The Lusty Owauku: A Beginning

•September 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

So this next series of blog posts will be devoted to a long-term homebrew project that I’ll be tackling over the next few months. I’ll be trying out some new stuff, brewing a more difficult style of beer, and generally being more experimental with my homebrewing. Hopefully, it doesn’t end in disaster. But, like the Mythbusters say, failure is always an option.

Shockingly, I have a friend. This friend, a certain Sam Sykes, is a fantasy author of world renown. If you haven’t heard of him, well, that’s your fault, not mine. Why not go to his website and read all about him? Go ahead on, I’ll wait.

At any rate, Sam’s in the midst of writing his third book, titled The Skybound Sea, and as a great fan of his, I want to acknowledge his accomplishment by brewing a celebratory batch of beer. It’s like baking a cake, except you can drink this cake…huh?

When I told Sam about my plans, I also asked him what style of beer he would like. It would do me little good to brew him, say, a Saison, only to discover that he hates all things Belgian. But Sam, being the larger-than-life sort, instead gave me free rein. His only guidance was the name of this celebratory beer:

The Lusty Owauku.

Some would call that a cop-out. Others would stare blankly, without comprehension. Still others might roll their eyes, presume casual dismissal of a friendly gesture, and never brew the beer. Those people do not know Sam. I know Sam. In naming the beer, he has trusted me to do the right thing. Moreover, he has explained, as succinctly as he could, what kind of beer he wants.

In those three words, he has said, “John, I want you to make a beer that captures the essence of a lecherous, drunken, island-dwelling lizard.”

He wants The Lusty Owauku.

Let’s delve into the warped mind of Sam Sykes and break apart his request. We shall start first with the nonsense word: owauku. The Owauku are, in Sam’s books, a species of seemingly jolly, gregarious lizard-men, dwelling on remote tropical islands. They are eager to trade with humans and have done so in the past. Generous with their guests, they usually offer up copious amounts of alcohol and food, taking only the pants of their new friends. They’re probably the least insidious creatures he’s dreamed up in his novels.

With that in mind, consider lusty. Sure, it may conjure up all sorts of titillating images (you pervert), but we should consider its broader context. Despite their panteloniokleptomania, they’re not particularly interested in getting down and dirty with mammals. Instead, the lust of the Owauku is their nihilistic tendency to feast, gamble, get hammered, gamble some more, feast, boot and rally, play Thumper for three hours, and finally pass out around dawn.

So, having deduced all that, I can start making a beer. First, I asked myself: what kind of beer does a lizard dude drink? A perfectly normal, reasonable question. Well, if anything, it’s going to be the beer that humans brought to their islands in trade. So, what beers are humans brewing for export? This is a fantasy setting, so there’s no refrigeration, meaning that most types of beer are flat-out; they’ll go bad too quickly, especially in hot climates.

That leaves us with a couple of options: an imperial stout, or an imperial pale ale.

Why those? Because those styles are high in alcohol and high in hop content, both of which lend themselves to preserving beer for a long time. A beer brewed to the strength of an IPA or imperial stout can be stored for a year or more with no appreciable loss in quality. These beers were brewed to survive long sea voyages, just like those presumably undertaken by the human traders visiting the Owauku.

Now, since the Owauku are lizard-men and colossal drunks, they’re not just gonna wait around for the next human ship to show up with more beer. Hell no, they’ll make their own! And they’ll try to copy the style of the original as much as possible, allowing for, of course, minor differences in ingredients, perhaps including those more suitable to the palette of four-foot tall, googly-eyed lizard.

So, I have decided: The Lusty Owauku will be an imperial stout. I’ve always wanted to brew a massive beer like that, and with ample lead time, I’ll have an excellent beer ready for the debut of Sam’s third book. But I’m not finished there! I’m going to build upon this recipe and add all sorts of improbable ingredients. Right now, the leading addition I’m looking into is Habanero peppers.

But we’ll examine that particular insanity next time, when I have a finalized ingredient list for The Lusty Owauku.