Oktoberfest bottling and pumpkin ale brew day

J – Hello all! Today was busy: I bottled an Oktoberfest (German Amber Lager) that I brewed mid-September and brewed a pumpkin ale that should be ready in 3-4 weeks – maybe in time for Thanksgiving!

First, the bottling. Bottling is easy but tedious.

Step 1: Clean and prepare some empty pop-top bottles.Image

Step 2: Transfer the fermented beer from the glass carboy where it has been for a month and a half to a bucket to make it easier to dispense into the bottles. I also add sugar (about 3.3 oz) to the beer so that the yeast has something else to eat in order to produce CO2. Right now, the beer you see here tastes like beer but it is totally uncarbonated, so it’s flat. In the sealed bottles, the yeast will eat the new sugar I put in and produce CO2, carbonating the beer. This takes from 3 days to a week, depending on the amount of carbonation you want.


Step 3: Fill up all the bottles and cap them. Easy enough but takes forever. Here is the finished product! 5 gallons of beer, all ready to go. You can see I reuse some beer bottles from other commercial breweries – normally, I remove the labels, but tonight I was lazy.


Ok, so that’s the bottling. It looks (and really is) easy, it just takes a long time. While I was bottling I was also brewing a pumpkin ale that I’m really excited for. For anyone that does not know how this process goes, it’s actually quite simple: basically, you make tea with grains. You heat up a lot of water and steep a lot of grain in there for about an hour. This process is called mashing and it removes the sugars from the grains. Cracked grain has enzymes in it that will process the starch contained in the grain into sugars if the ambient temperature is about right – ~150 F or so. After you make this grain “tea,” called wort, you drain the rest of the liquid from the grain bag and boil what is in the pot (about 6 gallons of wort). When the wort is boiling, you add hops and, in this case, spices. Hops make beer bitter and also add a lot of fragrance to it, which is important because unhopped beer would be sickeningly sweet. There are a TON of different types of hops, and they each add their own unique flavor profile. After the boil, the next step is to rapidly cool the wort down from boiling temperature to about 75 F. The purpose of this is to cool down the beer enough that you can add yeast without killing the poor little guys. After the wort is cooled, you transfer it into a carboy, or a big glass tank that will house the beer while it ferments, and add the yeast, called pitching. Once the yeast has been pitched, it sits for a few weeks while the yeast convert the sugar in the beer into alcohol.

First, here are all of my ingredients, including almost 17 pounds of grain, a few ounces of hops and spices, and a liter of yeast that I prepared yesterday – this is just a container full of sugar water that I use to start the yeast growing and multiplying before adding them to the beer. If you don’t make one of these – called a starter – then the yeast multiply too fast and become stressed, creating undesirable flavors in the finished beer.

For those of you that are interested, here is the recipe (the rest of you, skip on ahead!):

  • 11lbs Marris Otter Pale malt
  • 3.3lbs Pale wheat malt
  • 1.1lbs Carapils malt
  • 0.66lbs Crystal 40 malt
  • 0.66lbs Crystal 80 malt
  • Mash-in at 155, mash out at 168 for protein break
  • Sparge (170) with 1 gallon
  • 0.5oz Amarillo + 0.25oz Tettnanger pellets, 60 min
  • 1T crushed cinnamon, 1/2t ginger, 1/2t grated nutmeg, 1/2t allspice, 60 min
  • 0.5oz Amarillo + 0.25oz Tettnanger pellets, 10 min
  • 1T crushed cinnamon, 1/2t ginger, 1/2t grated nutmeg, 1/2t allspice, 10 min
  • Cool to 70, pitch 1L starter. I used Kolsch II yeast because I had it sitting around and I trusted my Kolsch colony more than my Safale US-05 colony. Really, this should go with a cleaner fermenting yeast like US-05, but I like Kolsch II, even at ale temps. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
  • Ferment in primary for 1 week (or until primary fermentation has stopped)
  • Add a couple of vanilla beans soaked in vodka and other spices to taste to secondary, ferment for 2-3 weeks.
  • My OG was 1.062, but I was WAY off. I aimed for 1.083. As you can see, I’m doing brew-in-a-bag and this grain bill was just too much for my setup. I should have mashed for 90 or even 120 minutes, but I knew it was already gonna be a long day and got lazy. My mistake.

Step 1: Start heating up the mash water. That’s about 9 gallons of mash water there.


Step 2: Once the water is about ~155 F, add the grains. This is almost 17 pounds of grains, plus 30 oz of canned pumpkin.


Step 3: After an hour, I removed the grains and drained the bag. Time to start the boil! The liquid in the pot is now called wort (pronounced wert).


Step 4: Once the wort reaches a boil, it’s time to add some of the hops and spices. The first image is of the spice mixture. This is your basic pumpkin pie spice mix: 1 tbsp crushed cinnamon stick, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger, and 1/2 tsp allspice. I made two of these cups. One of them is added right when the wort starts boiling and the other is added 10 minutes before the boil is done. I add 0.75 oz of hops (Amarillo and Tettnanger, for the curious) when I add each spice cup. The timing here is just to extract different flavors from the additions. Added early, the spices and hops will infuse more flavor and bitterness, respectively, to the beer. Added late, the spices and hops will infuse more fragrance to the beer. I will also add vanilla beans and (probably) more spice mixture after the beer has been fermenting awhile, a step called secondary fermentation. First, here is the spice mixture:


And this is the boiling wort just after I added the spices and hops. It smells just like pumpkin pie.


Step 5: Once the wort has boiled for an hour, it’s time to cool it down. Here it is just after it cooled to ~70F.


Step 6: Transfer the wort to a fermenter and pitch the yeast!


And there you go! I’ll post some video or pictures of it fermenting tomorrow. The fermentation is VIGOROUS and, I think, totally cool. The yeast have the time of their life and you can see yeast colonies floating around in the beer as they consume all the sugar they can. In the meantime, it’s time to clean up my mess before Ines notices how dirty I made our kitchen!


Groceries – week 5

Smoked turkey breast, 1lb beef cubes, turkey sausage, one dozen eggs, spaghetti squash, lettuce, tomatoes, bok choy, dried black beans, apples, pecans, bread and milk.

Now I’m gonna go do some research and figure out how to cook all of this. On another note, get ready for the inaugural beer post from Jeff. He’s been hard at work all day and it smells great around here!

Venturing into the unknown

I really had no idea how to deal with the butter beans. I looked at them and was wondering if I should remove them from the pod or if I should cook them in the pod (like snap peas or green beans). Thankfully, there is a thing called internet where I first found out that butter beans are a type of lime bean. Then I found this handy website. It tells you right there that the pods are not edible (disaster averted… for now).

So I got to work, snapping the pods and removing the beans from the inside.

The problem was, I ended up with a pitiful amount of beans. I found a simple recipe that instructed me to put the beans, a bit of butter and a bouillon cube (chicken or vegetable) in the slow cooker, cover with water and cook on low for 1h. Which is what I did and the beans were delicious, but enough for one serving…

The other ignorance-filled moment of the week involved peanuts. We received a bag of peanuts in the shell a few weeks back and I had just let them sit around for a while. Then, one of these nights I thought I’d eat them as a snack. When I first peeled the peanut and tried it, it tasted horribly wrong. They were sour, they were hard, in a word, they were green. So, yeah, I had no idea they had given me green peanuts and that I had to be the one roasting them. Somehow, my brain assumed that the roasting would be part of the conservation process for the peanut. To the internet I went, and I learned that the peanut actually grows on the root of the plant. I was completely ignorant to the fact that the shell is already dry when you pull them out! I thought they were like dried fruit… Ok, I learned something. Next step, roasting them. Alton Brown to the rescue – peanut oil, salt, and peanuts on a baking sheet, roast for 40 min. In the end, I peeled them all and put the roasted peanuts in a bag with some salt to coat. They were still oozing their oils so the salt just ended up accumulated in the bottom of the bag. We didn’t care, they were delicious on their own.

Meatloaf and stuff

This meatloaf recipe is one of our staples. Prep time is short and even when we mess up a bit on proportions (as I did) it still comes out tasting great. It probably has something to do with the brown sugar…

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1.5 lb ground beef
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 chopped onion
3/4 cup bread crumbs
salt & pepper

Pack the brown sugar in the bottom of a loaf pan, and spread the ketchup on top (I rarely measure it, just eye it and make sure to reach the corners too). Then, in a mixing bowl mix the beef, milk, eggs, chopped onion, bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 1 hour at 350ºF (175ºC). The most important requirement for this recipe is a loaf pan. If you use a wider pan, the sugar and ketchup will end up escaping from under the meat and the sauce won’t be as tasty. For the version I made this week, I only had 1lb of meet, so I reduced the rest of the ingredients. However, I forgot to do that for the milk, so the mix ended up being a bit too liquidy. To fix that, I added a bit more of bread crumbs. It’s not great, but as I said before, it ended up tasty great anyway.

Here it is, plated with stewed vegetables, corn and cranberry sauce. The cranberry sauce actually ended up being too much with this because the meatloaf has a sweet taste to it already, so we skipped it for the following meals. Here are the recipes.

Stewed vegetables – Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a pan and add one onion cut in large cubes. Cut up a mix of different squashes (here I used yellow squash and summer squash), one tomato and one green pepper. Add them to the softened onion, season with salt and pepper and add 2 tbsp of brown sugar. Stir and let cook, covered for 15 min followed by 10 minutes uncovered to evaporate some of the liquid.

Cranberry sauce – Add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a pan, let it come to a boil and the sugar completely dissolve. Add 4 cups of cranberries and have fun watching them burst (don’t stand too close or you run the risk of having it splash in your face…). When most of the cranberries had popped, I added 1 stick of cinnamon and the juice of one orange. Let it reduce for about 10 min, mixing often.

Corn – Couldn’t be easier: just buy a can of kernel corn, put it in a pot with water and a pinch of salt, and let it warm up a little. Drain and serve.

Baked salmon, vegetable curry and cranberry muffins

As Jeff mentioned, we were both pretty sick all week (damn you viruses!) but on Saturday I felt more or less okay and ended up cooking quite a bit. Which was good, because from then on and until today, it was bed-all-day for me…

On the weeks we get fish, I like to cook it right away because I think meat holds better in the fridge than fish. So the first recipe was baked salmon with potatoes (we had some left from last time) and mushrooms. It’s pretty simple, bake the seasoned potatoes and mushrooms for 20 min, then add the fish and bake for another 15min. We had more than the recipe asks for, and our steaks were pretty thick so I ended up leaving the fish in for another 5 or 10 min to make sure it was cooked all the way. But the best part was the sauce: red wine vinegar, whole grain mustard, honey and parsley. I’m not a big fan of salmon (I find it too fatty), but the sauce was quite tasteful so I actually ended up really enjoying this. Jeff does not like mushrooms at all, so they were all for me. I didn’t mind one bit because they were really tasty, none of that blandness you get from the white mushrooms from the grocery store.

The next recipe I made was a vegetable curry. This was my first attempt at curry of any kind so I was a bit afraid of making it too spicy. I learned I can go much stronger than I did, but it was nice to have this dish for the days of stuffy noses and lazy taste buds… The curry includes sweet potatoes, cauliflower, onions and carrots. We had it with brown rice, but also sometimes on a bed of arugula. This makes for a great vegetarian dish. One of the problems I have with vegetarian dishes is that they end up being a bit bland, but not this one!

And finally, as soon as I saw those cranberries, I decided to bake. I made cranberry muffins. So easy, it’s silly that we don’t make this all the time… Mix 2 cups of flour, 2/3 cup of sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 cup of chopped cranberries. Separately, mix 2/3 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of melted butter, a bit of grated orange peel, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 egg. Then mix the dry and wet ingredients, spray some cooking spray onto a muffin tray, place a spoonful onto each cup and bake at 400ºF (200ºC) for 15 to 20 min. Breakfast solved for the whole half the week.

Groceries – week 4

For those who have missed the beginning posts, we pick up our weekly groceries on Saturdays, from a service called Friends & Farms.

Items for this week – 2 salmon steaks, 1lb of hamburger meat, a block of sharp cheddar (and was it sharp!), one head of cauliflower, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, cranberries, apples, arugula, butter beans, milk and bread.

Included in this basket was the biggest apple I’ve ever seen. Check it out:

Week 4: Curry for a Cold, Meatloaf, and Baked Salmon

J – Hello! This week has been awful. Ines and I managed to catch some cold at the conference that we clearly have no immunity against, because we’ve been more or less bedridden for the past week straight. We’re slowly getting over it, but obviously there is less motivation to cook when you can’t taste anything. The answer to that problem is clear: curry. Ines made some delicious vegetable curry and baked salmon with potatoes and mushrooms that she will tell you all about later. Tonight, I’ll be making a ground beef meatloaf we have made before, to great success (which I bet you never thought you’d hear about meatloaf). Also, this weekend I’m going to bottle an Oktoberfest beer that I brewed a month ago and start brewing a Pumpkin Ale – very exciting stuff! It should be ready just in time to pair with a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. I’ll upload pictures of the process and in a few weeks crack open a bottle or two to let you know how they turned out. Check back soon for updates, pictures, and recipes!