Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Name My Beer

Shizuka, one of Kathy's best friends from college, is also expecting her first child (~10 weeks before Kathy's due). Shizuka's husband Eric lives ~20 minutes away, and a couple of months ago I suggested to him that we needed to brew a celebratory beer in honor of the children-to-be and to aid our wives' lactation. Eric embraced the idea. Good thing too, since he's the homebrewer, having made dozens of them over the years (though not that many of late), and he was the one with the equipment. I've helped on a few homebrews over the years but never have done one on my own.

After consulting with Kathy and Shizuka, we decided to go with a stout. Eric proposed a recipe that uses his favorite type of hops, but I didn't like the composition of the rest of it. So I found a different recipe that was more to my liking (and which still used his favorite hops), he suggested a couple of tweaks to it, and we were good to go. The recipe was labeled a "Robust Porter," which might as well be a stout, given that historically, porters came before stouts, and in fact, stout was originally called "stout porter" before the name got shortened. Today, this is what is meant by Robust Porter -- as you can see, the style allows for a pretty wide range of characteristics, most (if not all) of which you'll find in some stouts.

We scheduled a day to brew, and only the day before did it dawn on me that we had coincidentally chosen Father's Day. Over the course of several hours, Eric led us through the necessary steps (and I hope I have them right) -- put the grains in hot water, then let the mixture steep several hours; sparge the mixture in order to remove the fermentable sugars, thereby creating wort; boil the wort and add in the hops; cool the wort and add in the yeast; and seal up the mixture so the yeast can get busy.

After one week, Eric transferred the beer to another container, and two weeks after that, we were ready to bottle the beer. Conveniently, this past weekend Shizuka was in town (she and Eric are professors -- she teaches in Massachusetts, and he's at the University of Maryland), so on Sunday the four of us got to hang out for an afternoon of lunching, talking, bottling, and of course, World Cupping.

I wish that bottling were as simple as pouring the beer into bottles, then cap them, but there's also the matter of cleaning and sterilizing all the bottles before using them (we also had to add more fermentable sugars so the beer would carbonate). The truth is, every step of the process required cleaning and sterilizing, but given how many bottles have to be sterilized to hold five gallons of beer (made slightly less burdensome by our using 750ml bottles), we were at it for a couple of hours. A sampling of the beer at this stage gave us every reason to think we'll have a great beer in a few weeks (which makes the decision to wait until the end of October to open it a little more difficult).

One thing we haven't been able to do is come up with a clever name for our beer (Mothers Milk Stout has been used many times before). If anyone can think of a good name for our beer, let me know. If I use anyone's suggestion, I'll put a credit on my blog, and if you're around D.C., I'll be happy to share a bottle with you.

I'm going to be pretty busy for the next few days, enjoying soccer tomorrow night, followed by the RateBeer Summer Gathering that runs all weekend, and then I'll be going out of town for a week. In other words, I'm not promising any posts for the next dozen or so days. Pictures when I return.