For a few months now I've been unemployed. One would think that would be the golden age of homebrewing. But, sadly, homebrewing, and several other projects languished. I spent the time that I wasn't trawling job postings re-working my resume. I spent the time I could not bleakly assessing my dwindling financial situation. I began to seriously contemplate moving. All that stress was worthless in the end, as I have found employment through an old contact (not by sending out hundreds of resumes) and am still skint for a couple of months (the paychecks haven't started to roll in) yet.

Anyway, this winter was dark. A couple of times I considered brewing, but I recoiled at the thought of moving a carboy of beer, or even four dozen bottles, was enough to put me off the project. I should have brewed more than a mere three batches last year. And, damn it, I'm going to this year.

A January edition of Irregular Zymurgy - batch number 03-1
heavy blackberry barleywine

The backyard of this two-apartment house is threatened by invasives: blackberries and bamboo. The bamboo is gorgeous, and makes a wonderful rustling. The blackberries yield very fine berries. Mid-summer, I began harvesting and freezing blackberries, I've had 1½ pounds of berries in the freezer, waiting. It never amounted to enough for a whole 5gal batch of beer. So I decided to make a small batch of high-gravity porter.

Lately, there has developed an interest in pushing the envelope of techniques of brewing towards alcohol levels found in wines and even "fortified beers". Some call this sort of brewing "extreme brewing". I've tried a few strange things, but mostly striving for particular flavors, not high alcohol.

    This morning I boiled a kettle, and over a pot of
  • 1 lb crystal 40L malt,
  • 1/4 lb chocolate malt, and
  • 1/4 lb black patent malt,
  • I poured
  • 6 quarts of hot water (at about 180 deg F).
  • In order to help maintain that temperature, I created a bain marie by placing the pot in another bowl filled with hot water. This is done to mimic the mashing process and hopefully derive some dextrins that will contribute mouth-feel and head to the resultant ale. After a nice steep of about an hour, I put
  • 8 quarts of water
  • on to boil. Once the boil started, I strained the crush grains from the steeping water, sparged, and added that to the boil. And then poured in
  • 1½ lbs of orange blossom honey and
  • 1½ lbs british amber malt extract, and
  • about ½ oz of Kent Goldings hops pellets (6.1% alpha acids). This I boiled for 45 minutes, enough to break down the residual waxes. The apartment was suffused with the smell of honey, even through the mild hops-aroma. After that boil, I added
  • 1½ lbs frozen blackberries,
  • about 12 coin-sized pieces of ginger, and
  • a cinnamon stick.
  • This boiled for 15 minutes, and then I put in
  • 1 oz Mt.Hood hops (5.1% alpha acids) and
  • a pinch of irish moss (which will help remove the pectin from the berries).
  • This boiled another 10 minutes, then steeped for 10 more minutes.
    It was a dark, thick, slightly syrupy wort.
    After it cooled a bit, I strained out the solid matter and decanted it into a 1gal jug.
    After another 90 minutes or so, I pitched in champagne yeast. The fermentation took off quickly, and shows little sign of slowing.

This should result in about 18 cute little 7oz bottles of a blueberry-inflected high-alcohol porter. My estimates (of course I didn't take measure) suggest that it might top 10% if the fermentation goes to completion.

UPDATE February 1, 2004
The fermentation slowed, then halted about 2 days ago. I suspected that it might be stuck. This afternoon, conform and iDEATH and I took careful sips from the carboy using a long straw. It was dry!.
"Tastes like the hairs on a blackberry", iDEATH commented. Indeed it does.
"I wonder why it shouldn't just be drunk now", conform suggested impatiently.

UPDATE February 13, 2004
Three days ago I replaced the airlock with a regular bung and put the carboy in the fridge. Today I bottled it, with the addition of about 5 teaspoons corn sugar and a little water to fuel the bottle priming. Utilizing a ladle, a measuring cup, and a funnel, I filled eleven seven-ounce bottles and three regular (12oz) bottles. This is going to be a remarkable barleywine. The honey flavor is a bit high, but I hope that it mellows over the next several weeks.

UPDATE March 14, 2004
This evening I brought out a small bottle at the closing of an impromptu BBQ with misuba, Bob, and Christa. Taking the bottle from the fridge, I metted out a scant two ounces per person, in brandy glasses. It was very yummy: dry (no sugar), yet the scent of blackberries rumored sweetness, lightly carbonated, no visible sedimentation, no flavors of yeast.

UPDATE July 2, 2004
I packed the five remaining bottles of this elixir in my suitcase and brought it with me on the train. Tonight, overnighting with fuzzy and blue and Jongleur in Eugene, I shared a bottle with them. It is a dark, inky, complex beverage. The scent of blackberries remains, but not in an overpowering cassis-like manner. The carbonation has remained light.

UPDATE July 5, 2004
Now at the Salad House, I shared a bottle with cronfr0m and iDEATH. They were most appreciative. It is good to bring some small pieces of my former life with me into my new one. There remain two bottles, saved for some as yet unknown occasion.


A special reprise of Irregular Zymurgy - batch number 03-2
now is the winter of our discontent ale

One gallon of porter, even if preternaturally strong, would not be enough to slake my thirst for brewing. So, while I babied the special brew, I made a standard size batch of dark ale. In several ways, this recipe is similar to the sneffelicious dark ale I made two Septembers ago, but should be a little stronger and a bit more hopped.

    I put the kettle on again, and into a pot I put
  • 1 lb crystal 80L malt, and
  • 1/2 lb chocolate malt.
  • This followed a mashing technique identical to that described above.
    Into the five gallon stockpot went
  • gal water
  • and I allowed it to boil as I fussed with the blackberry porter.
    Then, once at a boil, I drained the liquid from the mashed grains into the main pot, and sparged the grains with more water.
    Into the boiling water I poured
  • 2 lbs dark malt extract and
  • 5 lbs ultra light extract.
  • Why I mixed those rather than choosing a medium dark extract I don't know. I bought this part of the ingredients awhile ago and can't remember what I was thinking. And I muttered to myself about it, while stirring the pot so that these syrups wouldn't stick to the bottom and scorch. Once the malt extract had dissolved, I added the bittering hops:
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer hops (7.2% alpha acids) and
  • 1/2 oz Kent Golding hops pellets (6.1% alpha acids).
  • All this boiled for 20 minutes. Then I added another
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer hops and
  • boiled another 20 minutes. At which point I threw in
  • 2 oz Mt.Hood hops
  • 1 tsp irish moss and
  • for aroma and clarification, respectively. This boiled 5 minutes, then steeped for another 10 minutes.
    I strained the wort into a bucket filled with 7lbs of ice to more quickly cool it. Within an hour I decanted it into a carboy, and pitched in Wyeast strain 1318 "London Ale III".

The fermentation has not yet kicked off. The darker ales sometimes wait a bit longer to begin. It is a gorgeous color of dark brown, though.

Brewing has long been a source of hopeful anticipation for me. The work involved is just enough to make one feel accomplished, the wait is not long enough to try my patience (usually), and the result is enjoyable on a couple of levels. The panacea is not the drink, but the activity. It is good enough. It is more than good enough.

UPDATE January 29, 2004
I noticed a bit of bubbles on top of the dark ale, but no real flocculation. I worry that the yeast is stuck, perhaps the temperature is too cool or there isn't enough oxygen or nutrients for it to begin. Worrisome.

UPDATE January 30, 2004
Now late evening. The yeast must have started this afternoon, as it has flocculated and piled a head an inch above the liquid. I now expect that it will be very active the next few days. And that I have no patience.

UPDATE February 4, 2004
I racked the ale to a clean carboy and tossed in another 1 ounce of Mt.Hood hops for finishing.

UPDATE March 28, 2004
Transferred this ale to a cornelius canister. The eight weeks of dry-hopping have contributed a mellow but strong bitter. The ale itself is malty, but fermented to completion. It has a bit of a biscuity taste from the dissolved yeasts that it sat on for so long, but that should be masked once it carbonates.

UPDATE April 3, 2004
Tapped the keg, at about cellar temperature. Drank five pints during an afternoon of grilling halibut with romenesca sauce, asperagus and portabellas with a lavender vinegarette. Garrick and Celeste and that cute girl from the bus came over. I am quite amazed at how good this turned out. The remainder of the keg I've gifted to misuba, for his birthday.