You can contact me at jmlabeckjr@optimum.net - Please support this blog, either by visiting the ads, or making a donation. Thank you.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Love Going Here

Before I start this, let me say I have absolutely no affiliation with this business. They don't even know I'm posting this.

I recently mentioned I had screwed up, and forgotten to get bottle caps. I did put in an online order right away. But it takes nearly a week for stuff to get to me.

It's not that I need to have beer, it's just that I have batches lined up behind it, and I hate to have unbrewed ingredients lying around. It just feels like an invitation for "critters".

So, I decided to make a road trip, and go to my not-so-local homebrew shop. I wish I was closer; Maltose Express, 246 Main St, Monroe, CT.

Every time I make this trip, I'm glad I did. The place is generously stocked, reasonably priced, and staffed with really nice, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable people.

I spent some time chatting with staff and fellow customers, tried a couple of really good beers, and left with the needed bottle caps, as well as ingredients for more beer. A day well spent.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Very Unhappy

I have some dreadfully sad news to report. I started to gather my equipment together to bottle my pumpkin saison. Thank goodness I get everything together before I start.

As I began, I realized I had forgotten to order bottle caps. I'm completely out.

It could be much worse. I put an order in right away, and I'll have them soon. I know from experience that the extra time won't do the beer any harm.

But, I was kinda looking forward to how this came out. I've never made a saison before, and there's no beer in the house.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Last Time

Good News! This is the final time I'll be begging for votes.

Voting in the Beer Camp contest closes at midnight tonight. Please go to http://www.sierrabeercamp.com/ and vote for my video, "you Make What?"

If you've already voted, thanks, and you can vote again. If you haven't voted, yet, WHY NOT??!!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Get Your Votes In!

Voting ends at midnight tomorrow, 10/15/13, so that means two things.

You still have time to go to http://www.sierrabeercamp.com/ and vote for me. It also means you only have to hear me begging for votes for one more day.

As my daughter-in-law said; Give my wife some peace, without me in the house! Send me to beer camp!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Almost Done

http://www.sierrabeercamp.com/vote

Well, you only have to endure a few more days of me pleading for votes. Please keep clicking, and thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has, and is, voting.

So please vote, and get everyone in you network to vote, too!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Keep Voting

I seem to be stuck in 42nd place. I've mentioned you can vote multiple times, and it only takes a couple of clicks to register a vote.

Please help me move up! Get me off your back! Stop these incessant posts!

Oh, and give my wife a few days of peace! Get me out of the house!

Shameless plug

As you probably know, I've entered the Beer Camp contest for Sierra Nevada Brewing. Please remember to vote, and multiple votes are OK.

What I want to do right now is give a great big thank you to my lovely daughter-in-law, Tanya.

She was able to take my halting statement about my love of brewing, and turn it into a really adorable video.

If you have a need in video production, in any way, she would be a good resource for you. Contact me at youmakewhat@att.net and I'll forward your information on to her.

Oh, yeah. She really knows her stuff, Masters degree and all.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Keeping The Pressure On

In one day, my standing in the Beer Camp contest has advanced from 55 to 42. That's pretty cool.

But, since the top ten win, that means there's work to be done. So, I need you all to vote, and KEEP voting. They allow a vote per day, per IP.

http://www.sierrabeercamp.com/vote

And thanks to everyone for their votes, and well-wishes.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

VOTE FOR ME!!!

The Sierra Nevada Brewing co. is having a contest called "Beer Camp". The winners get a trip out to their brewery in Chico, CA, to learn a bit about craft beer, and design a beer, to be brewed at the brewery.

I entered, and I need your help. The winners are determined by popular vote of the submitted videos at

http://www.sierrabeercamp.com/vote

You can vote once per day. Please vote for me. Get everyone you know to vote for me. Tell everyone you know to get everyone THEY know to vote for me.

I have no idea if I can win, but I intend to give it my best shot.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Brewday!

Here's a typical brewing session at home. Some of what I do is because I'm 60, and not as fit as I'd like to be. Some is because I live in a second floor apartment, and I have neighbors and a landlord to keep pleased.

Some of this may work for you, some may not.




I try to line everything up I'll need. I'm not perfect, I do forget things on occasion. But, everything I remember makes the stuff I forget that much easier to fix.

 
This is a pumpkin ale, so I added one step to my procedure. Is it necessary? I have no idea, but I feel better doing it. I used one 28 oz. can of pumpkin puree, and cooked it with 1/2 gallon of water for about 15 minutes.

I read a bit about using pumpkin as an ingredient, and most agree that you don't really gain anything, flavorwise, by using raw pumpkin. I feel the gain in convenience justifies the expense.

This is a partial mash recipe, so the grains and pumpkin sit for a bit to allow the enzymes to do their work.
I resisted mashing for almost 20 years. Now, I do a partial mash for nearly every beer.
While I wait for the mash, I take this opportunity to sanitize my fermenter. I do take shortcuts in certain areas, but one place I never do is with sanitizing.
 
I use the brew-in-a-bag method, mostly because it requires almost no additional equipment or expWense. I lack space or money, so both are important to me.
When the time is up for the mash, I simply lift the grain out, rinse , and let it drain.















The standard one-hour boil, that any homebrewer is familiar with.

One thing I do, that I feel saves time and uncertainty, is to make a small start with my yeast. I add a cup of cold water, a cup of wort, and my yeast, to a container. I stir it up, and let it work during the boil.

I find this cuts out most of the lag time waiting for fermentation to start.


I pour two gallons of cold water into my fermenter. And yes, that is a plastic water jug. I've heard for years the cautions against using blue plastic containers. I've seen no effect, except in my bank account.

After boiling, I pour the hot wort into the cold water.


 
And, after all is finished, there's my beer, happily bubbling away.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hope I Still Remember

After my forced layoff, I get back to brewing today.

My original plan, and my original recipe, was for a pumpkin ale. I had just planned for a partial mash with some canned pumpkin, and ferment that with some light extract and ale yeast.

But then, my daughter-in-law suggested a pumpkin saison, a Belgian farmhouse style. I was intrigued by the idea, but I had ingredients already on order. Was there any way to do this without spending extra money, or delaying my brewing even further?

That's what makes the internet such a great tool. I poked around a bit, and read up on the style. Like many Belgian styles, a lot more is going on than just your standard fermentation. Besides Saccharomyces, there's Brett, and Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus. That started the germ of an idea.

I had a bit of roasted barley lying around. Why not use that to "infect" the beer with some souring bacteria, after the initial fermentation had finished?

I think it'll work. By waiting, I can allow the ale yeast to do most of the work, lessening the chance I'll actually ruin my beer, Roasted grain is generally rich in the kinds of fauna you want in a Belgian beer, so should introduce the requisite flavors.

Lastly, and almost always my favorite reason, it'll be a fun experiment.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Finally!

Well, it's been a rather tough road, recently. Without boring you, a number of things have popped up to put pressure on my very limited resources. Obviously, you have to take care of the essentials, and beer supplies are not on that list.

But now, I do have some money, so I was able to order stuff for 3 batches; a brown ale, a pumpkin ale, and a Baltic porter, with crazy hops.

I'm really torn on what to do with the pumpkin ale. Do I want a straight pumpkin beer, with the actual pumpkin taste taking center stage? Or, should I make a spiced ale, with pie spice? I really like both, and either would be a fun brew.

I guess I'll just wait and see how I feel on brew day, since I have enough on hand to do either one.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Celebrate? Well, Sort Of

Today is my birthday. I'm 60, and more grateful for each passing day. By the accident of when I was born, I share this day with a far more somber anniversary.

As I browsed the various news accounts of ceremonies and remembrances, I was suddenly moved to tears by an account about Flight 93, known as the plane that fought back.

Think of the courage. I'm sure they knew they would probably die, yet they decided not to be bystanders, pawns, but to take action.

Is that kind of resolve in me? I hope I never have to find out. But, if it ever comes to that point, knowing they found it may help.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

More Beer!

 So, a couple of nights ago, I helped my niece, Emily, bottle her second-ever beer. I had given her an assist in putting together the recipe, and brewing the beer.

What we made (we hope) was a Russian Imperial Stout. Emily really likes dark ales, and we wanted to push the envelope just a little bit.
 We soaked the labels of some Sam Adams bottles, I brought over some caps, and my old wing capper.
Altogether, we got 8 bottles of beer. Not bad. The ninth bottle had about an inch and a half of beer, so we decided to just taste it. Obviously, it'll change after conditioning and aging. But, if first impressions are any indication at all, this is going to be one of the finest beers I've ever tasted.

It wasn't a fancy recipe. Here it is:

: Imperial Stout
Batch: 1.00 galExtract

Characteristics
---------------
Recipe Gravity: 1.087 OG
Recipe Bitterness: 49 IBU
Recipe Color: 76° SRM
Estimated FG: 1.022
Alcohol by Volume: 8.4%
Alcohol by Weight: 6.6%

Ingredients
-----------
American black patent         0.50 lb, Grain, Steeped
Crystal 120L                  0.50 lb, Grain, Steeped
Dark malt extract             2.00 lb, Extract, Extract

Willamette                    0.50 oz, Pellet, 0 minutes
Willamette                    0.50 oz, Pellet, 60 minutes

British Ale yeast             1.00 unit, Yeast,

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Short Vacation (And A Request)

Yesterday (7/28) was my last podcast before I take my August break.

I had the very nice surprise of getting a call from my friend Warren Priestley, who runs a web hosting company in the U. K.

After the call ended, I tried to mention his company, but blanked out when I tried to remember the URL. I had to go back and do a search for it.

Anyway, here it is:

http://my.ukhostme.com/

If you have a need for hosting services, business or personal, give him a try. He's a good person. In business dealings, that's often more important than any price point or service promise.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Worth Remembering

This was posted on my Facebook page today. I thought it humorous and though t-provoking at the same time.
 
 
 
Philosophy and Beer

(Long but worth reading to the end.)

A meteorology professor stood before his Meteorology 101 class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty glass mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a jar of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open spaces between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar and of course the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous yes.

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and then proceeded to pour the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things -- your family, your partner, your health, your children, your friends, your favorite passions -- things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

"The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else -- the small stuff.

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. Play another 18.

"There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first -- the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Another Way To Use Barley!

I've always wanted to do this. I had seen posts in many other places about using the leftover grain from brewing as an ingredient in bread. I love to bake, I love to brew. It just seemed like a natural fit. I don't know why it took so long to actually do it.

Drying the grain took longer than I thought it would, probably because I kept the oven door closed (My wife hates the smell.) I spread about 2lbs out into the largest pan we had; about 14"x18". I set the oven on warm, and stirred it every couple of hours. It took a couple of days. If I had left the door open, I think it would have gone much faster.

When it was completely dry, I ran it though my food processor. I wasn't quite flour, but was it wasn't just dried husks, either.

What to use for a recipe, I wondered? I did some searching, and everything I found looked WAY too complicated. In almost everything I do, I try to stick with the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). So, I took a simple white bread recipe, and tried modifying it.

My first attempt went, uh, not well. I essentially made a hockey puck; small, black,hard. I increased the flour, decreased the barley, and got what you see above. It's dark, rather dense, and really yummy.

Here's the recipe I came up with. I used my bread machine, but it should work fine as a manual recipe, as well.

===================================
SPENT GRAIN BREAD

2 cups flour
1/2 cup (or less) spent grain, dried
2/3 cup water or milk
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs oil (or softened margarine/butter)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast (or 1 pkt)
===================================

I plan to try this again with 1/4 cup of grain. I think that might result in a somewhat lighter loaf. I really like the taste, though. I also like the idea that you would make a slightly different bread after every brewing session.


Friday, June 14, 2013

An Apology/Explanation

I haven't posted in something like over a week. I've had some stuff going on which interfered with the whole writing process.

My dad went in the hospital, at first to simply get an infection cleaned out. As part of the normal examination process, they discovered he had colon cancer, and scheduled him for surgery.

There's no way to communicate the fear that grips you when a loved one goes through a health crisis. If you haven't been through it, you can't know it. If you have been though it, you know what I mean.

He came through the surgery well, and his recovery looks good. He's 81, and it looks like we'll have him with us for a few more years.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mixed Bag

First, I had a very productive weekend, beer-wise. Saturday, I brewed a 1-gallon, all-grain milk stout with chocolate. In case you didn't know, milk stout doesn't actually use milk (That would be gross.), but milk sugar, lactose. Since ythe yeast can't eat it, it adds a bit of sweetness, but not alcohol. I'm looking forward to trying my chocolate milk stout.

And, that night, I went to my nephew, John's, birthday party, and gave him all the ingredients for a partial-mash imperial IPA. I really hope he offers me one. By recipe, it comes in at 115 IBU, and almost 10% ABV. I wish I were making it. It sound tasty.

Then, Sunday, I brewed up a batch of ordinary bitters. This English ale is one of my go-to beers. It has plenty of flavor. It's light and refreshing. And it doesn't break the bank.

One thing I decided to change up was the hops. Bitters doesn't require aroma hops, but I wanted to try something different. So, I used Czech Saaz as an aroma hop. I thought the idea of an English ale with Czech aroma sounded intriguing.

And, that was my weekend in brewing.

Today, a friend of mine wrote to me for some help. She's involved in a charity to help children who need medical equipment (prosthetics, wheelchairs, etc.). If you have a few dollars to spare, please help. It's a good cause, and she's a good person, and can use our help.

Here's the link:
http://www.gofundme.com/jillian-persons

Thanks for whatever you can do.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sometimes, Aging sucks

Shortly after I published my post about doing a grain experiment, I realized I had forgotten to mention that I'm doing a short series about recipe formulation.

I'm not sure how much I'll have to say (I never do.), but I'm guessing I'll probably take about 3 or four weeks to cover everything I want to.


Listen Up! It Ain't Hard!

Over the last several weeks, I've seen a number of posts, in several forums, by folks who would like to move beyond kits. The actual words vary, but the message is always the same. "What do I do? What do I do?"

Things are not as mysterious as you might believe. As I've said for years, you simply make the beer you want to drink. To get there, all you have to do is learn where your flavors come from. Here's a little experiment to find that out.

Make a series of 1-gallon beers, and change the specialty grain each time, to see how that affects the beer.

First, the base recipe, in both extract and all-grain versions.

=======================================
Extract Version
1 lb Light Liquid Extract
.5 oz Generic Hops (3.5% AA)

All_Grain Version
1.5 lb American Two-Row
.5 oz Generic Hops (3.5% AA)
=======================================

So, The first thing to do is brew up the base version, so you have something to compare the others to. Then, all you do is make a different beer, and add 1/2 pound of your desired specialty grain to see what effect it has.

In fact, I would view this as an experiment with no end point. Once you make the base beer, and have a point to compare from, you can make a quick beer to judge the effect of almost anything you find.

As an added bonus, think of all the extra beer you'll have on hand!


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hmm

Which would be more appropriate for a brewing session? Wizard robe or mad scientist lab coat?_

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Breakfast Porter

I got a message today from someone who was interested in my recipe for beer with breakfast cereal. Here it is:

For a 1 gallon batch (If you want to ramp up the size, you could do this as a partialmash, and just use extract for the balance of the fermentables. Just be sure to increase the amount of cereal.  and hops, too)

2 lb 2-row barley malt
8 oz crystal malt (120L)
8 oz chocolate malt
4 cups breakfast cereal (your choice)
1 oz Willamette hops
1 pkt ale yeast

In a food processor, grind the cereal to powder. Then, in 1/2 gal of water, boil for about 10 minutes. Add to your mash vessel.

Mash the grains and cereal for 90 minutes at about 154 degrees, F. Remove the grain, and sparge, if desired.

Add 1/2 oz of the hops, and boil for 1 hour. Remove from heat, and cool in an ice water bath to 100 degrees.

Add the other 1/2 oz hops to your fermenter, and pour in your wort. top off to 1 gallon, and ferment for 2 weeks.

Bottle or keg, prime, and age for about 2 weeks.

As far as what cereal to use, it really is completely up to you. I would recommend, however, that you try to pick flavors that might work well with beer, like cinnamon, honey, or molasses. I would definitely stay away from stuff like Trix or Froot Loops.

If you try this, I'd really love to find out if it worked for you, and if you liked the result.



It's My Beer, Dammit!

One of the things I've always enjoyed about homebrewing is that I don't have to answer to anyone's preconceived notions about what my beer should be like.

I just ordered ingredients for my next few batches. I order malts to produce the last two beers in my breakfast cereal experiment, a chocolate milk stout for a beer tasting, and a non-standard standard bitters.

For the bitters, I decided to try something off the wall.  English bitters traditionally use Fuggles or other very British hops for aroma. American varieties, I think, use Willamette, and sometimes Cascade. I'm using Saaz, because I can.

I've said many times on my podcast, and often here, you make the beer you want to drink. I see no reason why I can't try to produce a nice, easy-drinking ale with a Czech aroma hop.

I can't wait to have a sip.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

An Anniversary I Won't Celebrate

It was 37 years ago, yesterday, May 6, 1976. My best friend at the time was about to go on a cruise to the Virgin Islands. We decided to have a drink to see him off at the local college watering hole. The place was packed, and we literally couldn't get in. As we crossed the street towards our cars, to find another spot, my life took a sudden turn.

I don't remember the fight, at all. I was told we were attacked by about 15 local high schoolers (There were 5 of us.). I remember waking up for a moment in the ambulance, feeling cold. I remember them taking x-rays of my head. I apologized, because I kept bleeding on the table.

When they told me my injuries, I think I took it pretty well. After all, what could I do? I had a skull fracture, a broken cheekbone, and a shattered eyesocket. They put me in intensive care, as a precaution, because of the head injury.

Due to the facial injuries, I needed reconstructive surgery, too put my face back together. The one thing that has always stood out about the surgery was the visit I got from my ex-girlfriend, while I was in recovery. I know that your time in recovery is always kinda foggy, but I remember very clearly that she was crying, and I told her not to.

After the surgery, it was just a matter of waiting for everything to heal, with one more surprise.

When I went to to consulting eye doctor, he gave me the bad news that I had lost most of the vision in my right eye. He was so apologetic, I don't think he expected it, at all. He also told me I would be prone to sinus troubles for life (Boy, did he get that right!)

I remember the date, and time (11:33 PM) every year. Sometimes, it's just a thought in passing. Other years, like this one, I have a more difficult time, and a night of bad dreams.

There were friends who stuck by me, who showed love and friendship, which I will never forget. I'm so happy and lucky to still be here. I've always felt that night could have been the end.

I'm going to turn 60 this year, and I nearly didn't make 23. I'm thankful for all who have helped and given over the years. I'll never forget any of you.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Next Up

So, my brown ale is bottled and conditioning. And it's time to think about what to do next.  I've been going dark/light, so I think I'll stick with that. It's been awhile since I made bitters, and I like it. Here are the BJCP guidelines

 ================================

Standard/Ordinary Bitter

Aroma: The best examples have some malt aroma, often (but not always) with a caramel quality. Mild to moderate fruitiness is common. Hop aroma can range from moderate to none (UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.
Appearance: Light yellow to light copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. May have very little head due to low carbonation.
Flavor: Medium to high bitterness. Most have moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Moderate to low hop flavor (earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. Caramel flavors are common but not required. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavor, esters and hop flavor. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.
Mouthfeel: Light to medium-light body. Carbonation low, although bottled and canned examples can have moderate carbonation.
Overall Impression: Low gravity, low alcohol levels and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.
Comments: The lightest of the bitters. Also known as just “bitter.” Some modern variants are brewed exclusively with pale malt and are known as golden or summer bitters. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export. The IBU levels are often not adjusted, so the versions available in the US often do not directly correspond to their style subcategories in Britain. This style guideline reflects the “real ale” version of the style, not the export formulations of commercial products.
History: Originally a draught ale served very fresh under no pressure (gravity or hand pump only) at cellar temperatures (i.e., “real ale”). Bitter was created as a draught alternative (i.e., running beer) to country-brewed pale ale around the start of the 20th century and became widespread once brewers understood how to “Burtonize” their water to successfully brew pale beers and to use crystal malts to add a fullness and roundness of palate.
Ingredients: Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English hops most typical, although American and European varieties are becoming more common (particularly in the paler examples). Characterful English yeast. Often medium sulfate water is used.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.032 – 1.040
IBUs: 25 – 35 FG: 1.007 – 1.011
SRM: 4 – 14 ABV: 3.2 – 3.8%
Commercial Examples: Fuller's Chiswick Bitter, Adnams Bitter, Young's Bitter, Greene King IPA, Oakham Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB), Brains Bitter, Tetley’s Original Bitter, Brakspear Bitter, Boddington's Pub Draught
================================================

Now, I often say, both here and in my podcast, that you should make what you want. With that in mind, I think I'll add a few tweaks.

 The strength, 3.2-3.8%, is just about where I want it. The bitterness is close, but I would prefer it at the high end, or perhaps even just outside the range. The color, too, is exactly what I want.

The guidelines call for moderate hop flavor and aroma, and that's where I'm going to make My biggest change. I plan to be aggressive in finishing hops, and I plan to try a very different variety, not English or American.

I'm considering an English ale with a German or Czech aroma: Tettnang, Saaz, or Hallertau. Or, I may try something further afield, like New Zealand.

I'll see what's available when I order, and maybe something will strike my fancy.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

I'm So Ashamed

I'm out with my wife, my son and his wife.  And I'm having a Busch. Well, at least it's not Busch Lite.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Looking Up

I'm not talking about beer. Go somewhere else if that bothers you.

One of my other hobbies, and one I've enjoyed since I was in my teens, is backyard astronomy. I love sitting out in the dark with my telescope, looking at some of my favorite sights, searching for new things on my star map. Sometimes, I like to just point the scope at a random patch of sky, just to see what might be there.

One thing had always bothered me about telescope advertising. Everywhere I look, the magnifying power is blasted in giant letters, or high volume. I wish they were more honest. Power doesn't mean anything. It's the telescope's ability to gather light that matters.

Rather then the raw power, look at the size of the objective, the space where the light comes in. And use the lower power, you'll actually see more. At the higher powers, it's more difficult to focus, and the earth's rotation will carry anything out of view, in just a few minutes.

I had a 2-inch refracting telescope for...well, a really long time. It came with several eyepieces, but I almost always stuck with the lowest power, about 40x.

It actually showed good detail on the moon, I could see the 4 major moons of Jupiter, Saturn's rings were gorgeous. I spent many happy nights with friend and family.

If you ever think of getting a scope, ignore the power. Get the largest diameter you can afford. There are 2-inch refractors, or similar size reflecting telescopes, for under $100, that can get you started.

The next step up would probably be a 4-inch reflector. Which is probably between $100 and $200. Don't get more then you can easily afford. Regardless of what you spend, a telescope can be enjoyed.

Consider this hobby. It doesn't cost an awful lot to get into, and you get years of enjoyment from it.


Monday, April 15, 2013

My Interview Series

Yesterday, I talked to my daughter-in-law, the last of the four combatants in our family brewing competition.

You can find the archive of all the interviews, as well as the competition itself, at http://blogtalkradio.com/youmakewhat

The most surprising thing about my talk with Tanya was her use of tea, and chai, as a brewing ingredient.

I've never considered it. I think I'm going to, now.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

News! Information!

Since my breakfast cereal porter hasn't exploded, yet, I thought I would try another. Yesterday, I brewed up a 1-gallon, all-grain batch with Cocoa Puffs.

It's happily fermenting away, and we'll see how it goes.

Today, on my podcast, I'm going to play an interview I recorded with my nephew, John Labeck. He did something I never thought of. He made a bacon-flavored stout.

I have absolutely no idea if this will help me any, and I'm not even certain how I'll use it. But, I set up a Twitter account. I believe you can find me as jmlabeck (I think).


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

We're Famous!

Will Siss writes a column for the Waterbury, CT paper, the Repulican-American, called The Beer Snob. We were honored when he agreed to be our guest judge for our little stout competition for St Patrick's Day. He judged my son's to be the best, and I can't really argue, it was an excellent beer.

I found we were doubly honored when he wrote an article about our contest.

You can find it here:

http://willsiss.com/2013/03/27/ill-be-the-judge-of-that/



Sunday, March 24, 2013

'Bout Time!

Let's see. I've been brewing since, I think, 1989. I have a blog about home brewing, and a weekly podcast about the same. My son, daughter-in-law, and nephew all brew, at least in part because of me. I recently helped my niece brew her first beer, and I'm helping an old friend get started with her first.

I just today joined the American Homebrewers Association. At least no one will accuse me of jumping on any bandwagon.


The St Patrick's Day Stout Smackdown





Last week, we had our family St Patrick's Day dinner. This was the third incarnation of the event, and it has grown every year. We were joking that, next year, we may have to rent out a venue and charge a cover.

When my niece, Emily, hosted the first one, she made Irish stew, with Guiness stout as an ingredient. Last year, she asked if I would make the stout. So, I did, and the result was yummy.

This time, somebody had the idea of a family competition. I wish I could take the credit, but I really don't remember who had the idea.

So, I, my son, Joe, and my nephew, John, all agreed to make our own take the an Irish stout. Joe's wife, Tanya, decided to join in, and we all started recipe formulation.

One of John's friends, Will Siss, writes a beer column for our local paper. He agreed to be our guest judge.



 The four beers were all delicious, all stouts, and all really different. I tried to make a classic dry stout, and flavor it with coffee and chocolate. Joe made a stout fermented over oak chips. John flavored his stout with a bacon extract that he made. Tanya made hers with something called dirty chai seasoning.

I recorded the judging, and you can listen to it at
http://blogtalkradio.com/youmakewhat

I thought Will did a wonderful job of judging the beers, and explaining his reasoning. The winner? My son, Joe, won for his oak stout. I feel no shame in losing to him. In fact, I would have been happy no matter who won. All four were that good.



Friday, March 8, 2013

New Horizons

I just finished bottling my first sour beer; a Berliner Weisse. It came in at about 2.8% ABV.

I had the chance to use my hydrometer, for the first time in about 20 years. My final gravity was 1.006, very close to the estimated of 1.007. Apparently, I know what I'm doing.

When I tasted my hydrometer sample, I was pleasantly surprised. I was exactly what I was hoping for. art and refreshing, it seemed almost citrusy on my tongue (But that might just be me.).

One of the things I've always enjoyed about brewing is coming up with names for my beers. I was stuck on this one, so I asked my wife for help. She said, "What kind of beer is it?" I told her it's a sour German wheat beer. She said, "It sounds gross." So, "Sounds Gross" is the name of my new beer.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

And Even Busier!

Well, I got over to Emily's to try her pale ale. As soon as it was poured, the color stood out. It was that classic, dark, reddish gold. I wanted this to be an experience, so I didn't just take a swig (as much as I wanted to). I checked the head (decent, but not lasting), the aroma (not bad, but a bit less than I expected).

Then, I tasted. Wow! Malt, bitterness, and hop flavor were all in near perfect balance. Not that I'm a real expert, but I would consider this an ideal beer for a nice steak dinner.

I look forward to the day when she's developing her own recipes. My niece has joined the family hobby in a big way. I hope she does a stout for next year's Smackdown.

===================================

Many years ago (1970-72), I worked as a counselor at a Boy Scout camp. I made many very good friends there. One of those friends was the camp nurse, Jean, who recently found me on Facebook. She saw some of my comments about brewing, and expressed an interest.

So, I put together a small sampler of recent brews and went to her home to chat about beer.

I had an absolutely wonderful time. I love to talk about beer; the styles, the process, the disasters. It was also nice to re-connect with someone I hadn't seen in over 40 years. One thing I found amazing...even after all those years, Jean seemed the same person I recalled, both in appearance and personality.

It was fun teaching brewing. Jean showed herself to be serious about trying this, asking lots of questions, and taking copious notes. I advised her to get a setup similar to what I had purchased for my niece. The price would be reasonable; she could make about 10 bottles at a time; decide if she liked it; hone her craft.

When I left (finally) I promised to help with her first batch, if needed, and insisted I try her first brew.

====================================

I bottled my breakfast cereal porter experiment. I left it an extra week in the primary, in hopes it would ferment out completely, and prevent the bottle bombs I had the last two times.

Just in case, I put the bottles in a separate, plastic-lined box for conditioning. If anything does happen, I hope the effects will be confined to the box.

====================================

My wife's apple wine turned out pretty nice. It's gone, so that should say something. I had an extra packet of yeast, so I decided to try something.

The basic recipe is truly easy. One gallon of fruit juice (without preservatives), a cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of yeast nutrient (or a few raisins), and yeast. The apple juice worked well, so I decided to try grape juice.

The one change I made was this. Barb had said she might like it a bit sweeter, so I stepped up the sugar just a bit; 1.5 cups, instead of 1. I'm hopeful the extra sugar will leave a bit of residual sweetness.

====================================

I've been brewing for something like 24 years, give or take a couple. There are still a few things I haven't tried. I can cross one off, now.

I just brewed my first sour beer, a Berliner Weisse. I poked around a bit, and asked some advice, and this style seemed a good introduction to the process.

As I write this, I can hear the fermenter bubbling behind me, so that's good. I find the idea of a slightly sour, light-bodied wheat beer really appealing. If I timed this right, I'll be drinking this in the spring, when something refreshing will be what I'm craving.

====================================

These examples show why I enjoy this hobby so much. There's always something different to do, different to try.



Saturday, February 9, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy





The biggest piece of news, I'm a first-time grandfather. My son and his wife welcomed Liberty Lavonia Labeck on Groundhog Day. The young family is doing well, and the smiles frrom Joe and Tanya are a joy to see.

My niece, Emily, brewed her first batch, a pale ale. I got put together a small. 1-gallon kit, with ingredients. I went to her house to help with brewing and bottling. As soon as the snow clears some, and I can safely travel, we'll try it.

I received ingredients for a couple of batches of my own. Yesterday, I brewed up a porter, using breakfast cereal as an ingredient.  I had tried this several times before, and the results were less than successful. The first time, there was way too much sediment, and the next two, I had exploding bottles.

I thought maybe that the cereal wasn't dissolving completely, so I decided to grind and boil it before the mash. For future reference, ground-up Lucky Charms is sorta grayish-green. Unappetizing.

All the contestants are lined up for our stout competition St. Patrick's Day. Mine is aging, my daughter-in-law's has just been bottled, and my son's and my nephew's are both fermenting. All four promise to be unique and tasty beers, and I hope to record the contest, for playback on my podcast.



Friday, February 1, 2013

Yet Another Variation



One gallon of apple juice, with no preservatives
One cup of sugar
One teaspoon of cinnamon
One packet of bread yeast

Put this all together, and you have My wife's first foray into brewing.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Warning! Tasteless Joke!

I first found this oh, about 20 years ago, at realbeer.com. I've re-read it many times since then, and it always makes me laugh.

It's hard to believe there are so many ways to say "vomit".


Vomit dictionary

 
 
 A
abdominable voorheaves 
air the diced carrots (Gerd R., student.tuwien.ac.at)
alan's Psychedelic Breakfast (booda@navo.navy.mil)
animate throat-missles (mac1005.kip.apple.com)
anti-poop (mac1005.kip.apple.com)
arf (ddmodell@mailbox.syr.edu)
B
backwards bungee (slip200.sirius.com)
bad caugh (George Hau, mail.ast.cam.ac.uk)
barf
bark at ants
barking turkey (montan.dsava.com)
belch chasers (stei0302@cs.fredonia.edu)
big spit (newspig)
bit spit (garden.ucop.edu)
blanch (absolut.osf.org)
blevis (slip21.uniserve.com)
blow
blow beets
blow bile (tbyte.com)
blow breakfast
blow chow
blow chowder (aurp1a.aur.alcatel.com)
blow chunks
blow cookies (bongo.bos.locus.com)
blow din-din
blow doughnuts
blow foam
blow groceries
blow lunch
blow your eats (slip141.tus.primenet.com)
blue chip special (mark_brittell@omis.edu)
bhluuuugh (?)
boke
boot
boot camp 
bow down before the porcelain god
bowel backup (emcindoo@stimpy.acofi.edu)
brack
bring it up for a vote
brown-nose it
buick 
burping bits (PJ Lindsay)
buy my buick
C
cack (Jeff Gerstmann)
call buicks
call dinosaurs
call for huey
call the elephants (infoserv.utdallas.edu)
call to the seals (arrrrrr aaarrrrrrrrrr)
call uncle ralph
call ralph on the big white telephone (Dan Tasman)
calling jacob (dglass@inmind.com)
carl earl (tbyte.com)
call (by telphone) the holy Urlich (the sound made while vomiting) (carljk@algonet.se)
catch it on the rebound
chandu (rchandra%hss@lando.hns.com)
Cheektowaga scream (Dan Tasman)
chuck a pizza
chuckle (regmap2.dme.nt.gov.au)
chum (Aaron, buccaneer.snm.com)
chunder
chunderspew
chunderspew
clean house
clearing your throat the easy way (rap@hooked.net)
churn (avon.x.co.uk)
commode hugging
cookin' for the cafeteria (lemma.res.jhu.edu)
copiously cough one's cookies (tbyte.com)
coughing chunks (next30-17.dev.oclc.org)
curl and hurl (tbyte.com)
D
decorate pavement
deliver street pizza
den heiligen Ulrich anrufen (carljk@algonet.se)
disgorge
divulge dinner
don ho heave (cuchulainn.stsci.edu)
drain the main
dribble phlem
drive the porcelain bus
drop chowder (Ilsae@echonyc.com)
dry boke
dump core (montan.dsava.com)
E
earl 
eating backwards (Tom Silva)
effusing the night's excess (tbyte.com)
F
facial diarrhea (Adam_Fukushima@engr.arc.nasa.gov)
fecal burp (Rich Haddock, novell.com)
feed the birds (pc101.siba.fi)
feed the fish, ducks
feed the houseplants
feed your young
fertilize the sidewalk
fill up the Tory swimming pool (George Hau, mail.ast.cam.ac.uk)
fling floor pie (chardonnay.harvard.edu)
food escape! (Dave @derby.ac.uk)
food flight (onet2.cup.hp.com)
fubar (voon.ee.cooper.edu)
G
gack
gag
get a refund on your lunch (jayg@sccsi.com)
give an oral sacrifice at the altar of the porcelain god
go to europe with ralph and earl in a buick
growling splash monkey (hale-mac36.wa.com)
H
hack it out (hake.cs.washington.edu)
hack'n bile (hake.cs.washington.edu)
hack some stew (veloce.pica.army.mil)
have a school lunch rerun (e8925292@student.tuwien.ac.at)
ham hawking (PJ Lindsay)
hawk (garden.ucop.edu)
heave 
heccccchluuug (Gary Love, raven.csrv.uidaho.edu)
hiccup from hell (mdexter.tiac.net)
hock up a furball (krypton.che.ilstu.edu)
honk (dave_oshea@wiltel.com)
hooverin' (Jeff Meade)
horfing it up (170.110.200.124)
hork
huey
hug the porcelain wishing well
hurl
hurling projectile material with or without chunks (ELLEN HANRAHAN)
I
induce antiperistalsis
inverse gut
involuntary personal protein spill
J
jump shot
K
kissing the can (Brent Sonnek-Schmelz) 
kotsen/kotzen (oscar@gewis.win.tue.nl) 
kneel before the porcelain throne
L
lap lung butter (ceth.princeton.edu)
lateral cookie toss
laugh at the carpet
laugh at the lawn
laugh at your shoes (voon.ee.cooper.edu)
launch lunch
leave lunch
liquid laugh
liquid scream
liquidate your assets
look for o'rourke
lose flourescent christmas cheer
lose some chopped carrots
lose weight
lose your lunch
lunch
lurch (cha.j.y%wec@dialcom.tymnet.com)
M
make a (technicolor) tribute to disney
make an offering to the porcelain god
make chowder (tbyte.com)
make a crustless pizza (greg@illustra.com)
make food offerings to the china gods
make pavement asterisks (perogy.cs.umanitoba.ca)
make the oatmeal hit the wall (dmiller.prentrom.com)
meet my friends ralph and earl
mug the hurpey (laser.2@osu.edu)
multi-colored yawn (Bob Torres, tsppp10.cac.psu.edu)
N
negative chug
O
offer a sacrifice to ralph, the porcelain god
order buicks over the big white phone
organ recital (c00805-247dan.eos.ncsu.edu)
organic output
out of stomach experience (regmap2.dme.nt.gov.au)
P
parbreake
pavement pizza
paint one's trousers (194.20.36.52)
paint the back seat (voon.ee.cooper.edu)
park a tiger (dcrodjers.bt-sys.bt.co.uk)
park a buick (jax.jaxnet.com)
plant beets
play the whale (regmap2.dme.nt.gov.au)
pop a gastric zit (tbyte.com)
porcelain projectiles (Ken Williamson)
pour one's overindulgence (tbyte.com)
povracati (ivana@mit.edu)
power barf
power boot
pray at the porcelain altar
pray to the porcelain goddess
pray to the porcelain gods 
praying to the porcelain princess
preach it to the congregation (batespc1.interbase.borland.com)
prepare dinner for a racist (George Hau, mail.ast.cam.ac.uk)
projectile style (garden.ucop.edu)
protein spill
psychadelic spit
puke
Q
quake one's gizzard (tbyte.com)
quease (tbyte.com)
R
rainbow fountain (ddmodell@mailbox.syr.edu)
rainbow kiss (bonkers.neosoft.com)
regurgitate
ralph
read the toilet
recycle your lunch (stei0302@cs.fredonia.edu)
regurgitate
retch
return the tripe (n.jacklin@hud.ac.uk)
reverse diarrhea
reverse drink
reverse gears
reverse gut
reverse peristalsis
ride the regurgitron
rope på elgen --- Norwegian: call the moose (wikne@lynx.uio.no)
round trip meal ticket
S
screaming at the ants (192.215.42.2)
scream cookies
sell a buick
sell cars (fooooorrrrd!!! buuuuuuiiiccccckkkk! hyuuuundai!!!!)
shaq-fu (sparky)
shout at your shoes
shout europe at the sink
shouting to Huey and Ralph
shunder (sean@vinny.csd.mu.edu)
shpew (ts3-30.upenn.edu)
sing lunch
sing psychedelic praises to the depths of the china bowl
sing to the sink
slam barf
snarf (aka: vomit via nasal passages) (veloce.pica.army.mil)
sneeze cheeze
sneeze chunks
soul coughing (netcom2.netcom.com)
spew
spew chunks (Matthew, snm.com)
spew snacks
spew spuds
spew the wild oats (ronald.tozzie@industry.net)
spill the groceries
spill your life story (sunlab45.essex.ac.uk)
spit cheese (tbyte.com)
splash your hash (ttacs3.ttu.edu)
split pea spew (slagdor@crl.com)
stomach overflow error (wsbusup4@urc.tue.nl)
sprout (rum.ee.umanitoba.ca)
T
talk to god on the big white telephone
talk to huey down the big white telephone.
talk to john on the porcelain telephone
talk to ralph on the big white telephone
talk to rrraaalllfffff on the camode-a-phone
talk to the carpet
talk to your shoes (Jeff Gerstmann)
taste dinner
tastes even better the second time (trentu.ca)
taste lunch twice (Jjperry@cs.ucla.edu)
technicolor yawn 
technicolor yodel
the big spit
the brooklyn mating call
the jersey yodel
throw dinner
throw up (voter-classroom-ethernet-11.middlebury.edu)
throw your voice (regmap2.dme.nt.gov.au)
thunder-chunder rainbow parfait
toilet bowl love (Brent Sonnek-Schmelz) 
toss your cookies
toss your tacos
turn your guts inside out (silva) 
tuna salad swimming upstream (cithe308.cithep.caltech.edu) 
U
uebergeben (tar_ddkc@aix1.danadata.dk)
uke (from my husband,bill @ kitkat.admin.utk.edu)
ulrik (tar_ddkc@aix1.danadata.dk)
un-eat
upchuck
V
vector-spew
visible burp (mitchell@ug.cs.dal.ca)
vomit
W
warhol wail (kburchil@gtis.gc.ca)
waste good beer (zeus.cooper.edu)
whistling beef (skeezics@teleport.com)
wolf
woof 
worf (BucsknBrns@aol.com)
worship at the porcelain altar
worship the porcelain god
worhip ralph at the great procelain throne (George Dorn)
wretch 
wyatt erp (cuchulainn.stsci.edu)
Y
yak
yark (Shan)
yatch 
yawn for the hearing impaired (micro5.microbiol.washington.edu)
yeech
yell at the ground
yell for hughie
yodel (ntssun2.ug.eds.com)
york
yorkel (phobos.rm.fccc.edu)
yorp (lan10.ec-nantes.fr)
yuke

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A New Brewer

Last night, I delivered my birthday gift to my niece, and we immediately got into making her first beer, a pale ale.

Here's the recipe, for a 1 gallon batch.

======================
1 lb light malt extract
8 oz 40L crystal malt
1 oz Willamette hops (3.5% AA) (split, 1/2 bittering, 1/2 dry hopped)
1 pkt dry English ale yeast
======================

A simple recipe, but it should be a delicious beer.

First, she brought 1 1/2  quarts of water to a boil, turned it off, and added the crystal malt. This was allowed to steep for about 20 minutes or so.

Then, this was strained into a larger pot, the malt was added (rinsing out the container thoroughly), water was added to bring it to just below a gallon. One half the hops were added, with the other half being added to the fermentation jug.

The wort (unfermented beer) was brought to a boil. I always tell new brewers (and, if you've made beer, you know this) this is probably the most critical phase of the process. DON'T LEAVE THE POT! When the boil starts, it will boil over very quickly, so it must be watched constantly.

When it started to boil, we removed it from the heat, lowered the heat, and put the pot back on. We had to repeat this a couple of times, until we got a stable, gentle boil.

After boiling for an hour, it was cooled in an ice water bath in the sink, to just under 100 deg. F. Then, it was poured into the fermenter, and lukewarm water was added to about the gallon mark.

The dry yeast was poured in, the stopper put on, and the length of tubing placed into a bottle half-filled with water, as an airlock.

Now, we wait a week, and bottle.











Photo: My Very First Beer! An American Pale Ale. Thank you so much Joseph M Labeck Jr for helping me! I had so much fun and I cannot wait to bottle and taste, then make some more!




Friday, January 25, 2013

A birthday gift


For my niece, whoa wants to learn to brew, I put together this little kit, to  brew a gallon of pale ale.

I'm really pleased with how this came together.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting Started, Cheaply

My niece just celebrated a birthday. She had been making noises recently about learning to brew. If you follow this blog and/or my podcast, you know I'm all about low start-up cost.

So, I applied  what I knew, and put together a complete, 1-gallon homebrew kit.

Here's what's in it:

1- gallon fermentation jug
drilled rubber stopper
7 feet vinyl tubing
racking cane
bottlefiller
4 1-liter plastic bottles, w/caps
ingredients for 1 gallon of pale ale

The total cost for this came to $28.80, plus shipping. I think this will di nicely to get someone started. And, you cannot beat the price.


Monday, January 21, 2013

My new beer

So, Here's my stout for our competition St Patrick's Day. Can't wait to try it!
==================================

I just had to add this update. I couldn't wait to try it. It had only been bottled for a day. It hadn't carbonated completely. The yeast hadn't settled.

But, it was delicious. The coffee and chocolate were detectable as subtle background flavors, which was exactly what I wanted. My home-roasted barley worked out great, adding terrific jet-black color, and (I think) contributed to the "stouty" character of the beer.

Now, I still may not win our little competition. But, at least I have a beer I can be proud to enter.



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Oops!

So, I just found out that my last few podcasts never actually went out. I was talking, but only to myself.

Ain't technology wonderful? Well, I worked on my system for a couple of hours, and I THINK I solved the problem. I'll listen to myself as soon as the 'cast is posted, to see if in fact I did fix anything.

Hopefully, I'm not a complete idiot.



A plea for help

I've mentioned several times that I've been brewing for, well, awhile. Way back when I was first starting, the best brewing resource there was, was The Homebrew Digest. It's an online discussion group of the old type. The delay between your question or comment and a reply could be as much as a week, since it's all by email.

But, any and every question got answered, and the technical discussions, though they often went way over my head, often taught me something.

Now, we're in a world that wants everything NOW! The Digest is really just a shadow of it's former self. It may pass away. I understand that. Nothing lasts forever, no matter how much we wish it would.

But, on the other hand, I won't just stand by and watch it happen. If it goes, Okay. But, I intend to do what I can to keep it here.

I was able to give a small donation to help with operating expenses. However, as was pointed out to me by one of the Digest's maintainers, what it really needs is activity.

The Homebrew Digest needs to become part of the brewing scene again, not an interesting piece of history. I truly think there's still a place for a slower, more low-key type of discussion that the email delay would naturally produce.

So, I would implore you. Go to http://hbd.org. Subscribe to the Digest. It doesn't cost you anything, and they've always done all they can to make it spam-free. Participate. Ask questions. Share your knowledge and experiences.

And finally, if you can spare the funds, donate. There are no sponsors. No one underwrites this effort. The HBD is totally dependent on the generosity of its subscribers, and that is where part of the problem is.

So, please. At least go to the site and read some of the older Digests. You may find it's just what you're looking for.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Frontiers

Well, I just ordered brewing supplies, and I've decided to try something new. After making beer for over 23 years, I'm surprised I can still say that.

I'm going to try my first-ever sour beer, a Berliner Wiesse. According to my software, I come out a bit too strong, and just a tad too hoppy. But, if it tastes like I'm aiming for, it should be good.

One article on the style called it "the most refreshing beer ever developed". That's exactly what I want.

At the same time, I want to tackle my breakfast cereal experiment again. I'm again making a 1-gallon porter, and adding 3 cups of cereal. Now, I've tried this three times, without great success. The first time produced way too much sediment, and the next two resulted in exploding bottles.

I've brainstormed with myself, and have come up with a couple of adjustments to my process. I think what happened was that I wasn't getting all the cereal in solution, so the enzymes couldn't access the starches, resulting in incomplete conversion.

So, now I'll grind up the cereal, and boil it for a few minutes, before adding it to the mash. Either it'll work, or I'll learn something else.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Update, apology, etc.

First and foremost...I've been busy. I'm now officially retired, and the whole process of not working anymore is a little more complicated than just not getting in the car every day. But, that's all behind me, and I can now devote myself to more important things, like beer.

One nice thing about retirement is that I have a steady income, and LOTS of free time. The best part of that is that my beer cabinet is back up to capacity.

I've made an English mild ale, a spiced winter ale, a porter, my first ever Imperial IPA, an I now have fermenting a mocha stout.

The stout has a story. My niece, Emily, for the last few years, has hosted a family party for St Patrick's Day. She makes and Irish stew, with stout in the gravy. Last year, she asked me to brew a stout just for the event. I was happy to do so.

During the past year, the wheels started turning in my head. My son and nephew both brew, so why not have a little friendly competition for next St Paddy"s Day? They both agreed, my daughter-in-law asked in, so now the four of us are competing for the right to have their stout included in that night's stew.

We're calling it The St Patrick's Day Stout Smackdown, and a friend of ours, Will Siss, who writes a column for the local paper called The Beer Snob, has agreed to be judge for our little competition. Will also has an online blog at http://willsiss.com, or http://drinkreadlive.blogspot.com/

The actual lineup of beers promises to be very interesting. I'm making a mocha stout, coffee and chocolate, my son is making one flavored with oak chips, my nephew plans to flavor his with bacon, and my son's wife will be using vanilla chai.

I've said this elsewhere. I'd like to win. But, since they all brew because of me, to some extent, even if I lose, I win.