Prison and Ales!

On July 25, 2009, in Brew Pubs, Craft Beer, Family and Friends, Travel, by Mark Ranes

Last weekend, we traveled to the Bay Area to tour Alcatraz on Friday and then hit the 9th Annual Microbreweries Battling Breast Cancer Brewfest at Marin Brewing, in Larkspur, on Saturday.


Arriving at Alcatraz

Friday afternoon, after a quick lunch at Pier 39, we queued up at Pier 33 to catch the ferry to Alcatraz.  I was surprised how windy it was on the bay, but the ride over to the island was uneventful.

A standard 5 x 9 foot Alcatraz cell

A standard 5 x 9 foot Alcatraz cell

Once we got to Alcatraz, we headed up to the actual prison building and after going through the shower area (don’t drop the soap:), we picked up the iPod-like self-guided audio tour units and spent about 90 minutes checking out all things Alcatraz. I was unaware of the extensive military history of Alcatraz, and the years it spent as a prison were incredibly interesting. The tour is well worth the time and expense.

We spent night with our friends Eric And Patty, in Moraga, and we enjoyed several vintage barleywines that Eric had been cellering.  We chilled and then enjoyed a 1992 Old Knucklehead, 1993 Old Crustacean and 1999 Bigfoot.

Three vintage barleywines!

Three vintage barleywines!

The Old Crustacean had lost its carbonation, but was tasty just the same. The best of the bunch was the Old Knucklehead with wonderful sherry-like flavors.  The Bigfoot was also quite nice:)  We also enjoyed several Speakeasy Big Daddy IPAs.

Three warm Brewfesters!

Three warm Brewfesters!

Saturday morning we headed over to the Orinda BART station and caught a train to the San Francisco Embarcadero station.  We walked two blocks to the ferry building and bought round-trip tickets to Larkspur Landing. The ferry over to Larkspur was filled with twenty-something kids who were enjoying the gamut of swill beers on the way over to the Brewfest.  After getting off the ferry in Larkspur, and a five minute walk to the Larkspur Landing courtyard, we bought our Brewfest wrist bands and hit the event.

Toast! A couple Old Rasputin Russian imperial stouts and a wheat ale

Toast! A couple Old Rasputin Russian imperial stouts and a wheat ale

Larkspur Landing courtyard is arranged in a crescent shape, with all of the businesses arranged around the outside.  There were many great breweries that were arranged around the inner rim of the courtyard, under canopies.  The weather was warm, in the mid-80s, and there were lots of attendees, so we spent a fair amount of time just navigating around the event, and waiting in lines for samples.  We were some of the more vintage folks in the crowd.  We spent a fair amount of time grabbing a sample, and then enjoying it in the limited available shade.

My one rant with this event, and brewfests in general, are the fools who get to the front of the line, get their taster glass filled, and then stand there and talk forever to the brewery folks.  Jeez – once your glass is full, get the hell out of the way! There are people waiting patiently in line behind you!

Me and Vinnie Cilurzo - my hero!

Me and Vinnie Cilurzo - my hero!

The highlight of the day for me was chatting with Vinnie Cilurzo, of Russian River Brewing Company.  Vinnie is a rock star in the craft brewing industry, and I’ve been fortunate to hear him speak recently at NHC, as well as briefly chatting with him at this event.  Russian River makes one of my top five favorite ales, Pliny the Elder, and I got to tell Vinnie that he is one of my heros:)

The 9th Annual Microbreweries Battling Breast Cancer Brewfest was a great, well organized event and I suspect we’ll attend again in the future.  Using public transportation to travel to the brewfest is the easy, and responsible, way to go:)

Blue Flame Imperial IPA on Deck for Saturday

On April 22, 2009, in Homebrewing, Recipes, by Mark Ranes
Blue Flame IPA Tap Handle

Blue Flame IPA Tap Handle

It’s time to brew this year’s Blue Flame Imperial IPA.  My 2008 Mark’s Big Foot Barleywine keg blew tonight, so the timing is right.  I have a monster starter going on the stir plate with two vials of White Labs WLP001 California Ale and one vial of White Labs WLP002 English Ale. I started it on Monday, so I have plenty of time to let it ferment out, feed it once and then chill and decant the nasty starter beer.  I’m changing it up just a bit and pulling out .3 pounds of crystal 60 and .3 pounds of crystal 40 and adding a half pound of Carastan in its place.  I liked what the Carastan did to the Mash Destruction IPA, so I thought I try it in one of my annual house ales.

There’s a possibility I may brew this IIPA Friday afternoon, but most likely it’ll be lending aromatics to the neighborhood on Saturday morning:)

Here’s the recipe:

Blue Flame Imperial IPA 2009
14-C Imperial IPA
Author: Mark Ranes
Date: 4/25/09

Size: 5.04 gal
Efficiency: 75.0%
Attenuation: 80.0%
Calories: 343.56 kcal per 12.0 fl oz

Original Gravity: 1.103 (1.075 – 1.090)
Terminal Gravity: 1.021 (1.012 – 1.020)
Color: 10.72 (8.0 – 15.0)
Alcohol: 10.93% (7.5% – 10.0%)
Bitterness: 222.4 (60.0 – 100.0)

18.0 lb American 2-row
0.5 lb Carastan
.5 lb Cara-Pils® Malt
1.0 lb Corn Sugar
1.5 oz Summit (17.0%) – added during boil, boiled 90 min
.5 oz Summit (17.0%) – added during boil, boiled 45 min
.5 oz Nugget (13.0%) – added during boil, boiled 45 min
.5 oz Summit (17.0%) – added during boil, boiled 30 min
1 oz Nugget (13.0%) – added during boil, boiled 30 min
1.0 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15 min
1.0 tsp Wyeast Nutrient  – added during boil, boiled 15 min
1.0 oz Summit (17.0%) – added during boil, boiled 5.0 min
1.0 oz Nugget (13.0%) – added during boil, boiled 5.0 min
2.0 oz Summit (17.0%) – added during boil, boiled 0.0 min
2 oz Summit (17.0%) – added dry to secondary fermenter
2.0 oz Nugget (13.0%) – added dry to secondary fermenter
500 mL starter White Labs WLP001 California Ale
500 mL starter White Labs WLP002 English Ale

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Time to Keg Up!

On April 19, 2008, in Homebrew Gadgets, Homebrewing, by Mark Ranes

I had three different batches to keg up today – twenty gallons total. There were 10 gallons of Colona (a clone of Corona Mexican Lager:), 5 gallons of Blue Flame Imperial IPA, and 5 gallons of Mark’s Big Foot Barleywine. Originally I hadn’t planned on kegging the Lazy Barleywine, but I took a reading using B3’s refractometer spreadsheet and was generally pleased with what I saw, but the real test would be a hydrometer reading. Kegging with CO2My brewbuddy, Wade, had asked that I take some pictures of my kegging process. I think it is different than the way most people keg their beer in that I use CO2 to push the beer out of the carboys, rather than siphoning into the kegs using gravity. I use one of B3’s Sterile Siphon Starters, attaching a line from my CO2 regulator to the sanitary filter and then push the beer with 1-2 pounds of pressure. The beauty of this is twofold. First, it reduces the amount of oxygen, as well as spoiling agents, the beer comes in contact with, thereby reducing potential oxidation of the beer during the kegging process. Secondly, and more important from the Lazy Brewer’s point of view, the racking process goes quickly because you are not relying on a slow gravity siphon. The beer flies out of the carboy because it is pushed by CO2!

I’ve been kegging this way since I started brewing and it seems to be working. My barleywines, that often age for over a year, show no signs of oxidation. I also like the fact that I’m not introducing any bacterial or fungal stuff from my mouth as I don’t have to blow into carboy to start the siphon.

Mark's Big Foot Barleywine LabelAlthough I was really worried about the barleywine finishing way too high, it seems that somewhere along the line, the yeast chewed through most of the maltose. I’m not sure if it was the champagne yeast starter I added a couple weeks back, but the final gravity was 1.031. It seems kind of high, but it is important to remember that this barleywine started with an original gravity of 1.134. This is going to be one big ‘ole barleywine! Here’s the particulars on the barleywine:

Mark’s Big Foot Barleywine

Brewed 02/14/08 (Valentines Day:)
Original Gravity, 1.134
Final Gravity, 1.031
Alcohol by Volume, 13.86%

Colona Mexican Lager LabelI also kegged up ten gallons of Colona Mexican Lager. This is a clone of Corona – hence the name Colona. It is always well received by the masses and is the beer of choice for those folks that visit my bar, but are not craft brew drinkers. Often, after couple Colonas, they are willing to try some of the other ales I have on tap. It is a clean lawnmower beer for the summer. The two kegs will lager for another month or so before serving. Here are the details:

Colona Mexican Lager

Brewed 03/02/08
Original Gravity, 1.060
Final Gravity, 1.015
Alcohol by Volume, 5.91%

Blue Flame Imperial IPA LabelFinally, I also kegged up five gallons of Blue Flame Imperial IPA. This is the third time I’ve brewed this in the last eight months, and I’m hoping it turns out as good as the first batch. The last time I brewed the IIPA, it just didn’t have the same hop brilliance as the first batch. The sample I tasted from the hydrometer jar leads me to believe this round is as good as the first:) Here’s the info on this ale:

Blue Flame Imperial IPA

Brewed 03/15/08
Original Gravity, 1.096
Final Gravity, 1.021
Alcohol by Volume, 9.96%

Four kegs of fresh beer!

Ahh, the beauty of twenty gallons of freshly kegged beer!

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Lazy Barleywine

On April 16, 2008, in Homebrew Gadgets, Homebrewing, by Mark Ranes

I brewed a big ‘ole barleywine on Valentines Day this year (isn’t that romantic:).

It was the biggest beer I’ve ever brewed and came in at OG 1.134!  It was like syrup when I put it in the fermentor.  Obviously I was worried about the yeast’s ability to chew through the wort, but I made a huge 1600 ml starter, with 2 vials of White Labs Cal Ale yeast, WLP001.  It took off with a huge ferment, with a massive krausen, that put a ton of yeast in the bucket holding the blowoff tube.  I was hopeful.  After about 25 days I took a hydrometer reading and the hydrometer bottomed out -meaning that it was still way too high.  I added a properly rehydrated packet of Safale US-05 in hopes that it could wake up the lazy barleywine.  All the while, I’d been performing my standard late fermentation carboy swirling on a daily basis, in hopes of rousing the yeast.  I tested it again after a week and it had dropped a bit, but not enough.  A couple weeks ago, I had Stephen pick up a vial of White Labs Champagne yeast, WLP715, in hopes that its high tolerance for alcohol might help finish off the barleywine.  Additionally I put a heating pad on the carboy, insulated by a Carboy Cover, and hoped for the best.  There was some activity in the airlock, and I’ve continued to swirl the carboy on a daily basis.  I’ll take another hydrometer reading soon to see how much progress I’ve made toward the final gravity.

I’d like to give a plug to Carboy Covers.  I’ve been using them since I started brewing and I gave a couple to Stephen because he taught me so much about brewing (even though I’m now a better brewer than he is:). Basically, most brewers know that light is an enemy to your fermenting, as well as finished, beers.  Carboy Covers keep the light out of your carboys.  They are made of soft fleece-like material and come in a variety of fashionable colors.  You can get them for 1, 3, 5, 6 and 6.5 gallon carboys and I can attest to the fact that they do hold up over time.

The green Carboy Cover in this picture is over three years old and does have a nasty yeast overflow stain on it, but I’m sure with a simple rinsing, it will clean up nicely:)

Originally, I picked all of my Carboy Covers up on eBay, but there were no auctions running when I wanted my last batch, so I paid full retail at $11.00 a pop – still a good deal in my book.  There are currently a couple eBay auctions running right now.  I recently had to resort to using bath sheets to cover my carboys since I had so much beer in glass.  Now, with four additional Carboy Covers, I can have up to 40 gallons in glass, and protected from light!



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