Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Country, New LHBS

As I mentioned in my last post, 50% of the DOTR workforce (i.e. me, Dónall) is now living in California. This means that if I want to brew beer, ordering equipment and ingredients from thehomebrewstore.ie is no longer an option (which is tragic, because they're good people). Instead, I have acquired a few pieces of equipment through Craigslist and ordered that which I could not scavenge from Northern Brewer (at a discount, courtesy of my shiny new American Homebrewer's Association membership).

For ingredients, however, I prefer to shop in an old-timey bricks-and-mortar establishment (it's quaint, I know!). Enter the Culver City Homebrew Supply store. There aren't that many homebrew stores in Los Angeles so I feel lucky that this one is only a few miles from my apartment, officially making it my LHBS. It's something of a novelty to be able to drive to a shop and buy brewing ingredients on a whim.

Although I'm a big fan of the place, I can't help but feel like I'm being quietly judged every time I enter (in a friendly, let-me-help-you-because-you-don't-know-what-you're-doing sort of way).

On my first visit, I was looking for a heavy-duty cleaner to get the gunk off some of the fittings in my apartment after I moved in. Past brewing experience told me that buying a household cleaner with a burly man in a tank-top on the label would be a waste of time, so I went straight to the LHBS and asked for something that would require protective goggles to work with. While I was there, I casually inquired about the cost of setting myself up with equipment to do some basic extract brewing. The guy handed me a "how to brew" flyer and failed to adequately answer my question, mistaking me for an absolute beginner (as opposed to my true rank of "mostly beginner"!).

The second time I went in to buy ingredients. I couldn't find the switch on the grain mill, so I asked for help. This marked me as an amateur and when I asked about whole-leaf Saaz hops, I received a lecture on the merits of pellets vs. whole leaf hops (which was helpful, but hardly novel). As an aside, the conclusion of the hops discussion was a whispered "we don't have that many European whole-leaf hops - you can buy them online, but I didn't tell you that!".

On my third visit, I innocently picked up a can of LME and was told at the checkout that it was rubbish and that I should buy a different brand. I appreciated the tip and bought the other (cheaper) brand. When I mentioned something about going all-grain and not having to deal with this sort of issue, it was recommended that I brew a couple of extract beers first!

I went in one time to buy yeast and a couple of rubber bungs and airlocks for an experimental batch of cider I was making. I knew where everything was and confidently collected my items and presented them at the cash register. I had a pleasant conversation about brewing things other than beer for the novelty and the challenge.

On my most recent visit, I needed a CO2 cylinder filled for a keg I just bought. The guy told me he'd never filled a 4-pound cylinder before. While there, I picked up a Blichmann Beer Gun and the guy warned me that I would need a way to split the CO2 line, so I responded that I had bought a manifold for this very purpose. At this point, and for the first time, he asked if I had a member discount! I told him I didn't know such a thing existed and he invited me to join his homebrew club, Pacific Gravity. I will attend my first meeting tomorrow. It seems my LHBS judgment is complete!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday

The first time that Dog On The Road beer was tasted by somebody other than the brewers was during Super Bowl XLV, a year ago today. I think that's as a good a milestone as any worth celebrating and I am officially declaring Dog On The Road to be one year old, or 7 years old in Dog years...

Those of you who have been following the blog (which is to say, both of you) will have noticed that things trailed off. We got behind on our posts for a while, then there was some upheaval and I (Dónall) left the country, leading to Donnelly's "hilarious" post about recruiting a new brewing bitch.

Fear not, though, for the Dog On The Road brewery is not dead. The brewing equipment has been moved from the frozen wastes of North Dublin to the balmy tropics of South Dublin, where Donnelly has purchased a new home for the brewery, which is a sturdy and comfortable looking small building in a patch of garden. As a token of his generosity, Donnelly is even allowing his wife to live in a large house which shares the brewery's garden.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in distant California, a new chapter of Dog On The Road is beginning. Even now, a shiny new stainless steel electric boil kettle is on its way to the new home of Dog On The Road America. It is hoped that the unparalleled craft beer culture of the American west coast will result in new and exciting recipes and ways of brewing beer and our ever-present lofty goal of getting trousered for cheap. With a year's experience, gone are the fears of dying from a poorly sanitised carboy, to be replaced by the fear of dying of a gunshot wound inflicted by a passing motorist.

And so that is the current State of the DOTR Nation. Tune in next year to read the next blog post and to wish Dog On The Road a happy 14th birthday.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wanted - Brewing Bitch

As a result of recent legal proceedings, Dog on the Road Brewing are delighted to announce a new vacancy in the brewing department of their Dublin branch. Applicants must be enthusiastic, willing to learn and have at least 8 years experience of being in awe of a master at work. Applicants must have no desire to move to America and no legal obligation to remain at least 850 meters from schools or playgrounds.

As Brewing Bitch, you will have the opportunity to put your creative stamp on cleaning, moving and tidying almost every element of the brewing process.

Interested candidates should reply to this post with a CV, headshot and details of previous “brew hat” holding experience.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Introducing Ruff (#2) from Dog on the Road Brewing

By now, it should be apparent that we are really starting to get the hang of this beer brewing lark. So far in our story, we’ve brewed, kegged, bottled and drank our first batch of Ruff. We’ve spent loads of money, and Dónall owns a 30 Litre pot that he will have no use for after we poison a loved one and give up homebrewing.

But until then, we will continue to churn out awesome beer that we make in a sticky kitchen on the Northside of Dublin (for those keeping count, Dónall’s house has been broken into once so far during the brewing process).

12 - Label close-up

So without further ado, we proudly present Ruff (#2) from Dog on the Road Brewing.

As if our egos weren't large enough already from our previous brewing attempts, this beer is starting to make us believe that we are the second coming of Jesus (in brewing form). The beer is very tasty, much cleaner and crisper than Ruff (#1).

The caramel flavours are out in full force and this batch is a lot less sweeter than #1. The carbonation levels were an ongoing concern with this batch and while we didn’t get the levels spot on, I think we both agree that we were pretty damn close.

Beer Details

ABV 7.3%
Original Gravity 1.078
Specific Gravity 1.022

Tasting Notes

The beer smells delicious and this sets you up for a really enjoyable first taste. Ruff #2 certainly comes closer in alcohol content at 7.3% and is much closer to Kwak than our previous attempts. It has it all, the caramel, the carbonation and the sweetness. Interestingly, on a triangle test with Kwak, both of us struggled to tell which was which and we both ended up selecting Ruff as the version that we preferred. Are we better at brewing beer than the makers of Kwak?

Yes.

08 - Close-up Bottles01 - Ruff Mk. II

07 - Bottled

Let’s Get Marketing

While I wouldn’t consider my four years in UCD studying Business and Legal Studies a complete waste of time, there are elements that I look back on and can’t help but feel like I could have done without them. My marketing course was one such element.

Firstly, I can’t remember if it was a half year course or a full year course. I can’t remember what was covered on the exam, I can’t remember sitting the exam. I can’t really remember much about our lecturer, and I can’t really remember what form the classes took.

What I want you to take from this introduction isn’t that our homebrew beer has destroyed my memory, its that any marketing skills that I have amassed over the years are more likely to have been taught to me by Don Draper than UCD. And when Don talks, I listen.

image

Right from the get go we decided that we would do things semi-seriously when it came to brewing our beer. We wouldn’t buy the top of the range equipment, but we would buy equipment that we would be happy to use for a few years at least and we stared a blog, but refrained from buying dogontheroad.com (just about)

So when it came to the matter of the logo, we wanted to pick one that would be distinct, recognisable and somewhat cool; something that we could proudly stand over, and would do us for a couple of months.

So channelling my inner Don, I got good and wasted one night, and by complete fluke, managed to pull the logo together. Logo_png

And I have to admit, I felt pretty good about myself.

The dog looked playful, the gritty texture looked a little like tarmac, and the words Dog on the Road really stood out. I sent a copy off to Dónall and spent the next few days thinking about how I was quite possibly the worlds best graphic designer. I had guaranteed our inevitable commercial success by coming up with a legendary piece of beer branding. It looked good on the bottles and gave us room to add relevant details when needed. We had started to build the brand!

But I knew it could be better, and clearly I was right. Below is the current Dog on the Road label for our World Famous Ruff Strong Belgian Ale.

dog on the road2_small_border

Now that’s a god-damn label! Designed by the very talented Will Sharkey, the new label really shines. The dog (somehow) looks even more playful, the colour scheme is epic and I absolutely love the ruffled paper effect on the red circle; and it looks amazing on the bottles

11 - Labelled 2

So a very big thank you to Will (who has been paid in beer) and watch this space for future beer bottle labels from Dog on the Road Brewing (well, Sharkey really, but we haven’t asked him yet.) And for anyone considering doing a marketing course in UCD…. don’t, just watch Mad Men.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Equipment: The Birth Of The Golden Child

"If anything is worth doing, it's worth doing to excess" - Edwin Land

"So when are you going to open a real brewery and start selling to the public?"
- Mr. Donnelly

"Dollar, Dollar bill, y'all"
- Wyclef Jean

Homebrewing aficionados devote considerable resources to their craft, not merely in terms of hours dedicated to producing beer, but also very often in financial terms. Although the greatest cachet appears to come from constructing one's own brewing equipment from raw materials or repurposing disused items for brewing, the novice homebrewer may find much of the construction process daunting - particularly brewers like ourselves with no experience of welding!

Despite our shortcomings as handymen we do, as fledgling brewers, feel the urge to brew better beer both by improving our method and by using better equipment.

To this end, we acquired two items with a view to improving our beer quality: a large brewing pot and a wort chiller.

The brewing pot is made of stainless steel and has a capacity of 30 litres. Due to its resistance to corrosion and the ease with which it can be cleaned and sanitised, stainless steel is the material of choice for all manner of food preparation, not least of which is brewing.

As for the capacity, a very common yield for beer recipes is 5 gallons, or 19 litres. A 30 litre pot should therefore be more than suitable for our purposes. Although the recipes we are currently following generally call for partial boils (boiling 9-14 litres of wort, then adding 5-10 litres of water to the carboy), this pot should allow us to try full boils in the future. This is desirable because the larger the volume of water boiled, the greater the absorption of sugars, alpha acids, etc. from the ingredients. Of course, the challenge for a full boil is in having a powerful enough heat source to boil 20 litres of water, but that is something we will worry about later.

It's worth noting that when we first began assembling equipment for brewing we made the mistake of buying a (relatively) small 11 litre stainless steel/aluminium stock pot. At the time we naively considered that this would serve our purposes for a while. It soon became apparent that a pot of this volume was woefully inadequate and, although we currently use the pot in the brewing process for heating extra water, it is unnecessary and was an expensive mistake. The lesson we learned, like so many homebrewers before us, is that the cheapest option is not always the cheapest option. It pays, in the long run, to buy equipment suitable for today's brewing that will also allow for some growth and some changes to tomorrow's brewing.

This picture shows the new pot, with the old pot beside it. It's hard to believe that we even entertained the idea that the small pot would be suitable!




The second new item we acquired was the wort chiller. The class of wort chiller we had in mind is characterised by the use of a coil of copper tubing. There are two main schools of thought for this type of chiller and they are differentiated in the liquid that flows through the copper coil.

One method is to submerge the copper coil in an ice bath and siphon the hot wort from the boiling pot into a carboy, passing it through the copper coil. Using this method, the wort is chilled very quickly as it passes through ice-cold copper tubing. In order to do it properly, an outlet tap, with a hop filter, should be added to the base of the boiling pot. This would involve modifying the pot, which we do not currently have the tools or the expertise for.

For that reason, we went with the other method, which is to submerge the copper coil in the hot wort and connect one end to a source of cold water (in our case, the kitchen tap). As the cold water flows through the chiller it cools the wort. The following picture shows this immersion-style chiller cooling hot wort in our boiling pot:




Cooling the wort quickly is an important aspect of brewing for many reasons, the most important of which is that when the wort is no longer boiling it becomes susceptible to contamination, both from bacteria and from sulfur compounds in the wort, and to oxidation (which is a Bad Thing). To cool a pot of wort by letting it sit at room temperature would require hours of potential exposure to contaminants. Another reason to chill the wort quickly is to cause what is referred to as the cold break, which is the term given to the precipitation of certain proteins that would otherwise cause the finished beer to be hazy when chilled.

While the wort chiller didn't involve any welding, this item did involve some assembly. We bought 10 metres of copper tubing from Woodie's. It comes in a coil which happened to be the perfect diameter for our brewing pot. Assembling the chiller then simply involved bending the copper tubing slightly at either end of the coil so that, when submerged, both ends of the tubing protrude over the rim of the pot. Once this was done, we attached some PVC tubing to the "output" end of the coil, in order to draw the cold water away from the pot. Many sources recommend attaching a length of garden hose to the input end and using a special screw-on attachment to connect it to a tap. In our case, we used one of those shower head attachments that have a rubber end that is fitted over the nozzle of a tap. We simply cut off the shower head part and attached it to the copper coil. The end result is a wort chiller that fits snugly in our boiling pot and can be easily attached/detached from any tap.

This picture shows the wort chiller in action:



Strictly speaking, the ends of the copper tubing should be bent downwards to minimise the chance of water leaking into the brew pot. In practice, the input hose is clamped on very tight and leaking isn't a serious concern. Ideally we would bend the copper tubing anyway, but such a bend would require using a bending spring and we can't find one of suitable dimensions!

So, having presented these new toys, you are possibly wondering what the Golden Child is. It is the "production" name we assigned to batch #3 of Ruff. It is so-called for many reasons. Although the recipe is the same as in the first two batches, this is the first batch brewed in a large enough pot and the first time we have chilled the wort quickly enough. In addition, this was our third batch, so we were more confident in what we were doing and the process was a lot more streamlined and relaxed. We had a healthy boil throughout, which is obviously very important and for the first time we actually made a yeast starter, as shown in this picture:


When using a Wyeast "smack pack" it is worth pitching the yeast into a small amount of water + dried malt extract before the beer is brewed. This gives the yeast a chance to return to vitality after being dormant for a while and accelerates the fermentation process.

So for all these reasons, this batch is the Golden Child. It represents our best brew to date (out of only 3!) and, based on the surprisingly good taste of the first finished batch and the preliminary tastings of the second batch, we have high hopes indeed. If nothing else, it had an original gravity of 1.096, so it should be near our target of 8.4% ABV and at least succeed in getting us trousered for cheap.



[the beer discussed in this post was brewed on the 6th of February 2011]

Introducing Ruff from Dog on the Road Brewing

 

04 - Label close-up 1

Its with great pride and an even greater sense of accomplishment that Dog on the Road Brewing proudly present our very first beer, Ruff.

Rather than have to warn friends and family each time we gave them a beer, we thought it would be best to just come out and admit up front that we, like many homebrewers before us, had probably just brewed up 20 litres of shit beer! With that in mind, and as a tip of the cap to Kwak, the name Ruff was born

The beer itself is very tasty, but a little on the light side when it comes to alcohol levels. This was probably a combination of the equipment we used as well as the many mistakes we made on the first brew. However, with all that in mind, its a flavoursome little beer!

 

Beer Details:

Original Gravity 1.048
Specific Gravity 1.020
ABV 3.6%

 

Tasting Notes:

Strong Belgian Ale it ‘aint… from an ABV standpoint at least. While the beer doesn’t pack the 8% punch that we were going for, it does deliver on taste. The beer is quite sweet, and has a very distinctive caramel taste.  In a triangle test with Kwak, the difference is obvious. Ruff lacks the spicy finish and crisp aftertaste of Kwak. However, as a stand alone beer, its not half bad

 

SNV31014SNV31017

 

07 - Poured