Sunday, October 24, 2010


I'm finishing off a bottle of 2006 Ferrari Carano Sonoma County Merlot right now, which as I will say, is fantastically elegant and complex, quite a break from some of the smoky beasts I've tried lately. It's 10:53pm, the Packers just shanked the Vikings (thankfully), and I just lit the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I should be drinking a beer.

Today was a lovely DIY day. A new friend, Stephen Mance, invited me to help him brew a Pumpkin Spice ale and I'd say it was wholly a success. I met Stephen a few months back through a friend and when we got to talking about home-brewing I realized I had a lot to learn from him. He's been brewing a bit more seriously than me for about the same time, but while I was shoveling tanks of grapes the past few years, he was working night and day in a commercial brewery in Chicago (see: Half Acre Brewery). I started home-brewing a few years ago as my appreciation for craft beer grew and I was gifted a brewing kit. The batches I've done up until today were what we call partial-mash, a fairly streamlined way of making a craft brew in a small home kitchen. Stephen, however, is slightly more adept and brews at the level just below commercial brewing in using what one calls an 'all-grain' method. While both methods produce the desired output and exceptional beers when done right, the latter method is truly a brewer's dream.

The story gets a little bit more interesting when you factor in where we brewed: the basement kitchen of a Catholic church in Dinkytown at 10am on a Sunday morning. Stephen is a groundskeeper for the parish and somehow managed to score the privileges to use their immaculate industrial sized kitchen for the art of brewing. The irony, I'd say, is likened to the history of monks making wine in Abbeys. While we were hauling the equipment down the back staircase, parishioners were exiting the building with doughnuts and coffee.

I learned immense amounts today during the brew session that lasted about 5 hours, a bit shorter than normal thanks to the streamlining involved in having two people who knew what was going on and a facility that enabled such efficiency. All of the equipment we used was top of the line and slightly modified to Stephen's liking (if there's one thing I've learned in the beer/wine industry it is that one needs to be ready to improvise and build upon the equipment they use, especially when problems arise). New for both of us was the use of roasted pumpkin and FRESH, locally grown hops, which we sourced from an acquaintance who actually had no use for them and donated them free of charge. SCORE.

When I went to get burritos for lunch, the aromas spewing from the exhaust fan of the kitchen seemed heavenly (sorry for the irony). I've never been a huge fan of pumpkin ales because they always seem too manipulated, but today may have just changed my mind. With relatively few hitches in the brew process, a number of new things learned, brewing partner gained, and a top-choice ale crafted, I would chalk today up to a massive success.

It gets better though. I mentioned that I lit the stove this evening, because I'm about to bake some bread. After getting into brewing I've found a sea of online forums filled with DIY nerds who are willing to spend an hour or two here and there so that they don't have to purchase a product that they can simply make, often times for less of a cost. I'm baking a few loaves of bread with the spent grains from our pumpkin ale. I've tried it before and hope this round is an equal success; bless my bleeding heart, but there's no sense in throwing something out if you can find an immediate use for it. If the bread would last long enough to taste with the finished beer I'd be the first to do a write-up. Unfortunately our fermented produce won't be drink-able for another month or more. Perhaps at that time I'll have some other spent-grain bread to try along side the beer in time for Thanksgiving. I love brewing at this time of year because there's always an occasion to look forward to, a release party of sorts, where we can share our hard work in good spirits with good company in celebration of all that we have. Cheers!