Busy at the home brewery

Here's my glass carboy fermenter in my closet. The red cap is holding a traditional airlock that allows the carbon dioxide gas generated by fermentation to escape but blocks nasty bacteria from gaining entry and contaminating the brew. The "blow off" system was simply a piece of tubing running from the plastic cap down into that bucket that I had filled with about a gallon of water and a small dose of sanitizer.

New year, new brews. With work at the winery slowed after harvest, I’ve grabbed the opportunity to put down a couple of batches.

I’ve a stout in bottles right now that is slowly carbonating, and it’s a little off style in terms of body and hoppiness ( it’s a little too hoppy) but it’s kinda like Lost Coast Brewery’s Downtown Brown or even a lighter version of Eight Ball Stout. Light body, with some good roasted malt flavors and a hoppy finish. I’m hopeful that it will finish up nicely in bottle in time for a little more winter weather. It would be a great beer to enjoy with a whiskey on a cold foggy day.

In the fermenter right now is a double IPA with loads of hops and malt that’s humming right along. But perhaps I should say, burping right along. Because of the cold nights I’ve kept the fermenter in my closet rather than out in the barn where I usually stash it. Our night time lows of upper 30s to low 40s is just too cold for the little yeast beasties doing their thing turning sugars into alcohol.

Because of the high amounts of malt, or sugars, the yeast have been quite active causing the fermenting beer to bubble up with a great deal of force. This can pop the airlock that I usually put on the top of the fermentor so I run a piece of plastic tubing down from the top of the fermenter into a bucket of water. The tube allows carbon dioxide and foam to leave the fermenter and the water, with a dash of sanitizer, acts as a barrier to bacterial infection.

Fermentation started quite vigorously on Sunday evening. As the beer foam bubbled up out of the fermenter, the bubbles caused a constant, plopping sound followed by an occassional “burrrp” as a large volume of gas escaped from the tube. The fermenter was in my closet off of my bedroom and Christine and I couldn’t sleep at all. With the constant dripping she kept dreaming of leaking water, while I was struck by nigthmarish dreams of fermentation. (You know, stuck fermentations, not reaching the right final gravity, bacterial infection, I’m sure we’ve all had them from time to time.) By 3 a.m., we’d had enough and I pulled the tube out of the water.

Fermentation has slowed a bit and now I’m back to using just the regular airlock and it shouldn’t affect our sleep.

I’m enjoying brewing, but I’m already balancing my urge to expand operations with a reluctance to spend $1,000 on a 10 gallon, all grain brew structure like this beast.

Perhaps then I’ll just have to continue my amateur efforts while enjoying the fine products of the West Coast’s excellent breweries and events such as SF Beer Week.

Palm Springs: War birds, cocktails and the desert

After the plane had landed in Ontario and I had stumbled out of the jetway, a little bleary and buzzed from a couple of bloody m’s, I stopped in front of a pane of floor to ceiling windows that ran along the far wall of the airport terminal. There framed by a freeway and a limitless blue sky were some of the tallest mountains I had seen in a while.

Their jagged peaks covered in snow, the mountains stretched straight into the sky like a wall. I had heard the desert would be beautiful, the mountains impressive, but I’ll admit a NorCal bias in that I just can never, ever, believe that Southern California is pretty. We hadn’t even made it to the desert yet and I had been stopped short by my first sight of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Soon afterward, we were cruising Highway 10 headed east. Our rental reservation had been for a subcompact but instead we lucked into a free upgrade for a black and chrome Chrysler 300. The surging engine, sleek hood and sun reflecting off the chrome as we barreled through the desert at 85 mph made for a more appropriate entrance into Palm Springs than putt-putting into town in a Yaris like a pair of schmucks.

Our resort the Rancho Las Palmas. This view is pretty much what we enjoyed from our balcony.

The hotel was gorgeous. We snagged a room at the Rancho Las Palmas resort in Rancho Mirage. So, technically we weren’t in Palm Springs but it’s all the same really. Our room had a balcony that had an expansive view of the resort, a pond and the mountains far in the distance piercing the blue sky. We also overlooked the fifth fairway on the main course. The first afternoon in our room I put on my shorts and sandals and kicked my feet up with a glass of Jamesons on the rocks to watch groups of old duffers navigate a par 3 with a tight fairway and impressive water hazard. I wasn’t that shocked to see some blatant cheating.

Christine was there to relax. I had promised that I too would relax. We would spend a day lounging by the adults’ pool with frosty beverages and simple thoughts in our heads like: “Do I have room for an order of nachos? Can I get nachos poolside?” Well of course you can get nachos by the pool, but I can’t ever relax like that on vacation.

When I’m in a new town I just have to do something. Sitting by the pool can make me feel a little antsy. What did I do? Find the best wine bar, perhaps a legendary cocktail lounge where Sinantra and Deano used to haunt? No, I went to the Palm Springs Air Museum to see the largest collection of fully operational WWII combat aircraft. To this history buff and nerd, the museum may have been the best part of the trip. I was able to stroll beneath the wings of the planes that had won the war in the Pacific and Europe. I may have missed out on lounging, but I’ll never forget being able to stare down the sight of a .50 cal machine gun in the waist of a B-17 Flying Fortress. Yes, I got to walk through one of those great lumbering four engine bombers.

For New Year’s we hung out at the hotel. The place had three bars and each was rocking and the hotel staff had set up another bar and a dance floor in the lobby. It was interesting to hang out and mix out with the rich LA folks, the country club locals and a few yahoos like ourselves from out of town. The Palm Springs area is a network of  walled-in, planned communities with security gates in the front that seem more appropriate for the Green Zone in Baghdad. I haven’t seen too many seniors cruising in Bentley’s to get their scrips at CVS. On the outlying edges of the cities are the sprawling, dense neighborhoods of track homes with air conditioners on the windows and bars on the doors. The homes of the gardeners and the guys who bring up the room service.

But enough of the social commentary. The area has spectacular scenery. From the mountains juxtaposed with the golf courses in the cities to the desert. On New Year’s Day, Christine and I drove out to Joshua Tree National Park. The stillness and stark beauty of the park, which is accentuated with bizarre cacti and stone formations was an appropriate close for our trip. After an oasis of wealth and excess, it was refreshing to walk through a desert bereft of distraction.

Some drinking links

Sorry about the holiday stuff staying up on the blog a little too long. I was out of town for New Year’s and came back with a pretty bad sinus infection. I’m all drugged out, not in the fun way, and will post on my Palm Springs jaunt when I can, but in the meantime here’s some boozy links if you’re interested.

• The Chron’s wine editor has his picks of the most memorable wines of 2010 here. Most are pretty esoteric that only a true wine expert would recognize, but reading his list is just a fun little reminder about how much you don’t know about wine.

• Not in time for New Year’s, but still pretty interesting is a French study on the proper way to pour a glass of Champagne.

• Speaking of Champagne, this blogger is on a quest to drink a different one every day for a year. Godspeed to you good soul.

• A few weeks ago, my sister and brother in law spotted Joe Montana in a SF bar. Trying to find a way to connect to the 49er legend, my sis Googled his favorite drink on her iPhone and discovered it was reportedly a rum and coke. They delivered said drink to the great man and he thanked them kindly. Curious about other celebrity faves, I did a quick Google search and found this link, which purports that Barack Obama can’t get enough Bud Lite.

• Good news for local beer lovers in Napa and the area. The beverage group, Pelican Brands, finalized its purchase of Napa Smith brewery on Dec. 26. This means a the brewery’s finances have stabilized and we don’t have to worry about an awesome local brewery closing operations.