Anniversary Brewing

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So it’s been a year since we said “screw it; let’s brew!” We’ve come a long way from our first extract based, pale ale kit that bottled using a length of rubber hosing. Nowadays, we only bottle for special occassions and keg the rest. We go to our LHBS to measure and crush our grain for all grain brewing.

We’ve had some highs (Oaked Wee Heavy, PSU Old Ale, S’More Stout) and some lows (exploding bottles, a lawnmower beer with an off taste). For our one year anniversary, we decided to get back to our roots.

We looked back to the original kit and came up with an all-grain version of the recipe. Brewing pictures included. The original gravity appears to be around 1.036.

Ann Arbor: Beer City USA?

Charlie Papazian, on Beer Examiner, is accepting nominations for the Beer City, USA contest. For a city to be nominated, it must receive 70 votes on the page. 16 Cities have already reached the required 70 votes, and a number of others are close – including Ann Arbor.

Per a Papazian tweet earlier today, Ann Arbor is one of the few additional cities within reach of a nomination:

Huntsville(26), Ann Arbor(20), Baltimore(16) in the hunt for nomination. Need 70. http://bit.ly/bptHZQ

You can only vote once per IP address, so round up as many friends as you can (or visit a bunch of different coffee shops), and try to get Ann Arbor nominated. A2 isn’t an option on the page’s poll, so you’ll have to write it in. Voting closes at 2PM Eastern on Sunday.

Why is Ann Arbor deserving? The home of Grizzly Peak, The Blue Tractor, Jolly Pumpkin (taphouse only – though the main brewery is still in metro Ann Arbor), Arbor Brewing Company, Ashley’s, and a robust homebrewing community, it’s almost certainly beer city, Michigan. Might as well keep aiming higher.

Getting Started: How what do you NEED to homebrew?

I’m going to go through what exactly you’ll need to set yourself up to homebrew. There are many ways to homebrew, but here is a nice primer to get yourself started. Better/bigger equipment can make your job easier/make your beer better, but I’ll discuss a fairly standard 5 gallon setup.

1. Brew Pot
This should be at least 3 gallons, and the bigger the better. Ideally, you are putting 100% of the liquid you are using in your beer in your boil, but if need be, you can get away with adding additional water later. You may have a 3 gallon pot already, if not, a 5 gallon pot will cost about $30-$40.
Sidenote: when boiling this much water, a top for your brew pot is essentially a requirement, you don’t want to be sitting around for 5 hours waiting for your water to boil.

2. Fermenting Vessel
This can be a carboy, or just a plastic pail or jug. The important thing is that it is airtight and can be affixed with an airlock (see below). In general it’s nice to have this all in one container, but in a pinch, you could setup several milk jugs with airlocks and save yourself a bit of coin, but a 6.5 gallon pale with an airtight top and a purpose built hole for an airlock can be purchased for $15-$20. A similar sized carboy will go for about $40-$50.
Sidenote: For about $5 more, the 6.5 gallon pale can have a spigot, which VERY handling during bottling. Unless you’re a master syphoner, you should seriously consider going with the spigoted pale.

3. Airlock
Yeast doesn’t produce alcohol in the presence of oxygen. It has to consume all of the oxygen in the fermentation vessel before it can start making little -OH groups attached our friend, the ethyl group. It also needs to be able to release the CO2 that’s produced. Otherwise, your beer will begin to carbonate before you want it to. These cost very little, about $2-$3. When making a particularly large batch or one that is likely to ferment a great deal, people occasionally use a blowoff instead of an airlock. They simply affix a plastic hose to the top of the fermentation vessel, and put the other end of the hose in a bowl of sanitizer.

4. Bottles
After you’ve fermented your beer, you need someplace to put it. Some people have kegging kits, but those cost more than $100. The easiest way to do it is with used bottles of beer. The easy, but expensive way to do this is with bottles with Grolsh style tops. These are a breeze. All you need to do is put the beer in the bottle, snap it shut, and wait. If you don’t have a ton of money to spend $4 for a bottle, the more economical method is the traditional bottles. Supposedly, you can use twist-off topped bottles with out issue, but I recommend sticking with standard topped bottles. You’ll need a bottle capper. Basic ones will cost about $15, and nicer ones go up to about $35. Collecting bottles is something you should be doing on a regular basis. Offer to give your friends a couple of beers if they supply you with their bottles. Also: CLEAN YOU BOTTLES IMMEDIATELY. As soon as you’re done, rinse your bottles out. It’s a pain (and really gross) to try to clean out mold in the bottom of bottles. They don’t need to be sanitized yet, but as soon as you get them, rinse them.
Not-So-Pro Tip: Only use brown bottles. Beer in bottles of other colors will be ruined in less than 30 seconds when exposed to sunlight, and can be just as skunked from everyday indoor lighting if exposed to it for too long.

5. Syphon: Depending on your setup, it’s possible to do this without a syphon, but I wouldn’t recommend it. When you’re done with primary fermentation, and you’re getting ready to bottle, you’ll want to remove the beer from your fermentation vessel, add priming sugar, and then add your beer to the bottles. Taking it out of the primary fermentation vessel first will eliminate a lot of the sediments you won’t want in your beer (trub). Technically you don’t NEED this, but it costs so little, you might as well. Pouring the beer won’t keep this stuff out, so a syphon is the way to go. This can be had for a couple bucks tops. We have an auto-syphon which is a huge boon. It includes a pump that basically requires you to have no skill at syphoning (something that has been evident after several failures at syphoning the ‘real’ way. Auto-syphons will cost about $10.

6. Sanitizer
Staying sanitary is huge. If you get the wrong kind of bacteria in your beer you can die. Now that’s a worst case scenario, but at the very least, it’ll add bad flavors to your beer. It also isn’t really measurable, it’s not really practical to test your beer for contamination before it’s done, so it’s important for the sake of your beer that you stay as sanitary as possible, using sanitizer on anything that’s going to come in contact with the beer/wort. You can get away without sanitizing something if it’s going to be in contact with something yet to be boiled, but in general, sanitize everything. One-step sanitizer works the best, as you don’t have to rinse it out afterwards, works fast, etc., but bleach can do in a pinch, and is very very cheap.

Now, there are many homebrew stores that will offer many of these items in a kit. However, the kit we purchased as around $100, and did not include a brew pot or a pale for bottling (it did include a 6.5 gallon carboy). If you know what you’re looking for, and are willing to shop around, especially online, you can achieve a better setup than what we started with for less.

There are a few other, less necessary items that you might find useful, in order from least to most expensive:

  • Bottle Brush – to clean your carboy (if you’re using one), without it, cleaning a carboy is a very difficult process
  • Food thermometer – to know when it is safe to add your yeast, also necessary for mashing
  • Hydrometer – to measure original and final gravity (to know when fermentation is finished, and the ABV of your beer)
  • Second fermentation vessel (clear) – for secondary fermentation
  • Mash tun – for mashing  malted grains, greatly decreasing your per batch costs
  • Kegging kit – for storing your beer and hastening your carbonation times

If you’re going with a carboy, buy the bottling brush as well. It’ll be uniquely shaped to help you scrub the insides of the glass, allowing your next batch to be assuredly clean.

I didn’t include any ‘ingredients’ in this post as we plan on having separate articles on each of those. However, with the above setup, you should be able to purchase a ‘kit’ from a brewing store that will have all of your ingredients you’ll need, generally: malted extract, hops, yeast, and priming sugar, as well as instructions as to how to brew the particular beer that your kit is for.

So here’s the setup I recommend for a starting homebrewer:

  • 5 gallon brewpot – $35
  • 2 fermentation pales (1 spigoted) – $35
  • auto-syphon – $10
  • airlock – $2
  • sanitizer – $5
  • bottle capper/caps – $15

Total price: ~ $105

All you’ll need then is to get some bottles from friends, and your should be set for making 5 gallon batches.

Review: Packard Pub

At long last, the property that had been left empty at the corner of Packard and State St. in Ann Arbor since the closing of Artisan Bistro has been filled by a bar. Packard Pub has been open since March 26th, and sells itself as a sports bar, with a slight focus on local (state of Michigan) microbrews.

Atmosphere

Packard Pub sells itself as a sports bar, and with several big-screen TVs littering the dining room, it will always be possible to catch the game. The waitstaff, dressed as referees, fits the theme as well. I’ve watched a few sporting events there, including NCAA basketball and hockey tournament games, and it does have the feel of a sports bar during the day and early evening.

However, in my experiences, Packard Pub is still facing something of an identity crisis. When the lights go down at night, a DJ booth has popped up in a corner more often than not. The management needs to decide whether they want their restaurant to be a sports bar or a nightclub. They’re obviously aiming for the former, and need to forget about the latter. With large tables that can’t be moved out of the way to make space for a dancefloor (and the pseudo-club niche already filled in town by a number of other bars), Packard Pub needs to cast its lot as a sports bar, and nothing else.

Food and Drink

The food at Packard Pub is supposed to be their pride and joy (“What separates me is the food” owner Kyle Miller told the Michigan Daily in March), but from what I’ve had, it’s standard bar food. Solid, but unspectacular, and not the feature to make one’s name upon. The prices for food are about in line with other restaurants in the area, perhaps a little on the expensive side for standard bar fare.

As drinks go, Packard Pub plans to have a number of Michigan microbrews on tap, but for the first couple weeks, only a few were available alongside the more mainstream offerings from SAB MillerCoors and InBev. This is most likely something that will be adjusted once the restaurant settles into its groove a bit more. The prices are about standard, however there is a distinct lack of quality specials, something that every other bar in town has. Again, that may be fixed once Packard Pub has its feet under it a bit more.

The Future

As I’ve noted a number of times in the above, Packard Pub has the opportunity to become a staple of Ann Arbor nightlife for students. However, it still has a ways to go. Some improvements to atmosphere, selection, and pricing can go a long way to ensuring a successful business venture. Once the luster of a new bar in town wears off (and the students stop coming in such full force), hopefully Packard Pub will make the adjustments necessary to set it apart from other places in town.

It’s far from a finished product in other ways as well, with a downstairs seating area that has yet to open. That area will increase seating significantly, though I’m not sure if the television situation in the lower level will fit with the sports bar ideal. Still, just over a month into its existence, it’s easy to see that Packard Pub can become a worthwhile addition to the Ann Arbor community.

Verdict

As of now, I’d give Packard Pub an overall grade of C, close to a C-plus. However, there is plenty of potential for it to improve significantly once it settles into its place in the Ann Arbor bar scene. It has potential (as a sports bar) to reach a solid grade of A-minus.