Jeff Mangum Pt 2: The 40 Watt (340th new thing).

November 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

On Day Three Hundred Forty Patrick and I drove to Athens, GA to see Jeff Mangum play at the 40 Watt. While this was not the first time watching Mangum’s live performance (see Day 330), it was the first time seeing him in Athens. And I drank a super high gravity 11% alcohol beer.

Once we’d arrived and checked in to the glamorous Holiday Inn, Patrick, our friend Mark, and I cleaned up and headed out for some grub. On the way out we noticed a few groups of family football fans gathered around the TVs in the lounge downstairs. Day Three Hundred Forty will also be memorialized as the day Whitney Houston died (cue minute of silence with “I Will Always Love You” softly playing in the background).

We headed out on the college town and after stopping for a quick bite at a trendy looking taco place headed into a craft beer bar/restaurant. It was super crowded. With the show down the road coupled with a frigid Friday night in Athens, people and thick coats lined the bar, the booths, and flowed into any open space. I ordered the highest gravity beer that I’d ever drank: an 11% alcoholic brew. I could definitely taste the kick, and it began a long conversation in the back of my mind about whether high gravity beer was any better than regular gravity beer. I guess it depends on your beer drinking aim.

After we’d warmed up significantly, I layered back on my sweater, gloves, scarf, and big puffy down coat to head to the venue. “Andrew, Scott and Laura” from Elf Power were the opening act. They should have re-arranged their name order to Laura Scott and Andrew. Or just dropped Andrew altogether, simply because I’ve always wanted to see my name on a giant marquee.

The 40 Watt holds about two hundred fewer people than Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse, where I had seen Jeff Mangum play ten days earlier. I was curious to see how different the audience would be, especially since Athens is the hometown of Neutral Milk Hotel. I wasn’t disappointed.

The crowd moved as one throughout the entire show, falling silent between songs and singing along loudly when prompted. I joined in. I think part of the difference between the Atlanta and Athens shows for me had to do with my position in the audience and the preparations beforehand. In Atlanta, I had rushed straight from work and missed the build up of the opener. However, I also believe that the college town enjoyed a sort of homecoming atmosphere. It may well have been the 11% beer that loosened me up, too. Either way, it was a great show, and I can’t wait to head to Charleston in January to complete my trifecta of Jeff Mangum shows (buy your tickets here).

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Touring the Wrecking Bar Brewery (312th new thing).

April 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

The appeal of gastropubs and brewery restaurants seems to have been steadily growing in the past several years, and I am not complaining. A few weeks earlier Patrick and I tried out one of the new small in-house brewery/restaurant combinations when we had a meal at The Wrecking Bar. On Day Three Hundred Twelve we returned on a Saturday afternoon for the free “Brewery Tour.” I was especially excited about seeing the workings of a small beer brewing operation after I had begun to brew my own alcoholic beverages.

We arrived just before the 4:30 beginning of the tour and sat down at the bar. Unable to resist, I took the suggestion of the bartender and ordered myself a beer brewed right downstairs. I chose the Red Ale and I have to say, it was one of the tastiest beers I had ever tried. Maybe it was perfect for my tastebuds right at that moment, or maybe it was everything I had dreamed my own Red Ale would be. Either way, it seemed to be the grand combination of smooth, creamy, and cold. Soon after, Brewmaster Bob walked around the room looking for any would be tourists. We joined the small crowd with our beers in hand and headed down the ramp to the mysterious brewery.

The garage door opened into a large basement-like room with oversized kettles and fermenting tanks lined on either side of the walls. I recognized the process of making beer through my experience as a budding home brewer. I pointed out to Patrick what I figured to be the wort making area and the fermenting tanks.I may have been secretly impressed with my knowledge, although it still paled in comparison to most others.

Bob gathered us in a circle around him as he described the process and informed his captive audience as to what brews were currently being made. And then we got to the tasting part, my favorite part of any brewery tour. We tried a scotch ale, a hefeweisen, and a stout. In between I sipped my red ale. People asked questions throughout the guide and individuals and small groups asked for more information as we refilled our glasses. There was another home brewer in attendance, and I enjoyed hearing his questions and subsequent answers. I rolled through my brain trying to think of an appropriately intelligent questions, but instead just asked something about whether or not he grew his own hops. The answer is, “Hopefully in the future.”

We left shortly after and I really felt that I had a better understanding of the beer-making process. Now I just need to get the recipe for that Red Ale and I’m set.

Measuring the Alcohol (286th new thing).

February 13, 2012 § 2 Comments

I made beer as a new activity. It tasted alright, nothing super special, but since I had made it, it was delicious. One aspect of the process I neglected the first time around was to measure alcohol content. I tried to use the hydrometer, but I was fixated on not contaminating my first brew and couldn’t handle the extra step (a dumb rationale). However, on Day Two Hundred Eighty-Six I moved on to brewing my second batch of beer, this time a pale ale. More secure in my grasp of the process, I also managed to correctly use a hydrometer, or so I hope.

The beginning specific gravity of my wort was 1.050. I measured three times, just to be sure. And two three weeks later when I finally got around to bottling the brew, it was 1.010. As long as the temperature of the liquid was kept at (about) 60 degrees Fahrenheit (which it probably wasn’t), my final alcohol content was 5.3%. I used a formula found here.

% Alcohol = ((1.05 x (OG – TG)) / TG) / 0.79 (OG=Original Gravity and TG=Final Gravity)

It really wasn’t that difficult, and now I can drink my approximately 4.8-5.3% pale ale with the additional knowledge of its potency for tipsy-ness. Awesome.

Sunday Funday (278th new thing).

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Georgia Voters headed to the polls November 8th. I didn’t get the chance to vote (I was too busy finding buried treasure in South Carolina), but one of the items on the ballot was whether, on a city-by-city basis, residents could buy alcohol on Sunday. Before the vote was passed, you couldn’t purchase beer, wine, or liquor on that one day of the week.

The vote passed in several cities around the state, and on November 20th certain cities began to allow Sunday alcohol sales. Atlantans wouldn’t be able to purchase booze until January, but East Point, Suwanee, and Duluth were all open for business. On Day Two Hundred Seventy-Eight I was in Duluth after working a Sunday shift, and decided for the first time ever to purchase some beer in Georgia on the Lord’s Day.

I looked online to find an outlet that would be open and stumbled upon The Best of Brews, a store that sold growlers not two blocks from work. I’ve never purchased beer in a 64 oz glass jug that could be reused to store home brew. It didn’t take much for me to make up my mind.

The most difficult part of the Sunday purchase was deciding which brew to buy. Georgia law does not allow tastings at such an establishment (I asked), so it’s hard to know what you are in the mood for. It’s like you have to buy a six pack before you get a growler to know if you like the beer. I ended up choosing the New Belgium Prickly Passion Saison because the descriptor sounded tasty and it was a limited edition (apparently). Plus it was 8.5%, so I felt like I would be getting my monies’ worth.

That’s another thing about the growler; it is rarely less expensive than the same booze bought in bottles. I went into it thinking it would be a discount vs say, a six pack, but in actuality most times it’s pricier. I guess the growler is more for the draft beer lovers.

Even if filling a growler doesn’t prove to be the most economical option, I’ll still continue doing it, though. There’s just something so retro about taking your empty jug into a store to get refilled. And even if I don’t always buy beer on Sunday, I’m certainly glad that I can. Makes the idea of Sunday afternoon parties much more feasible.

Bottling (246th new thing).

January 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

The time had finally come for me to bottle my homebrew, and on Day Two Hundred Forty-Six I did just that. Prior to bottling, I checked many homebrew forums for tips on the process. There was far more equipment and actions involved in this step compared to the activity of making wort.

First of all, I needed about fifty twelve-ounce bottles to siphon my beer into. We had been saving up our empties on the back porch for several weeks, so I was set. Then I had to santize all the bottles. I started by soaking them in a bathtub full of hot water and began to peel off the labels. The Guinness Black lager insignias came off with astounding ease, but the Bell’s Two Hearted bottles proved much more difficult. In the end, I had an assortment of naked bottles, but mostly ones with half peeled stickers still attached. The process of clawing at the labels took quite awhile, and then I still had to sanitize the beasts.

Instead of soaking the bottles in a bucket of sanitizer and then rinsing them individually, I opted for the neat dishwasher method. I loaded all fifty of the brown glass containers into our machine and set the cycle to “sanitize.” That also took a bit longer than expected, but in the meantime I began to clean and organize the rest of my tools.

Before bottling the brew I boiled the caster sugar included in my kit and dumped it into my second five gallon bucket, the bottling bucket. I then siphoned the wort into this container. The sugar aids in the carbonation of the beer while it’s in the bottles. The dregs of hops and grains at the bottom of my original fermentation bucket was gross. It looked like the bottom of a sick bag, and smelled like a rotten brewery. I hoped that wasn’t any indication of how the beer itself would taste. After all of this was completed, it was time to begin the bottling process.

I set the full bottling bucket atop the counter and created an area on the floor for me to allow the liquid to fill the bottles. Fortunately I had a bottle filling attachment linked to the siphoning tube which would plug up when lifted into the air. I sat on my stool with the sanitized bottles lined up in front of me, the siphoned tube full and slid the bottle filler into my first container. Within no time the bottle almost overflowed onto the floor. I lifted the tube out of the first twelve ounce glass and slipped it into the next. This was easy, albeit quite messy as I consistently allowed the booze to reach above the lip of the glass.

After I had filled about twelve of the bottles, I carefully rested the siphon and began to cap. I placed the tin topper on each bottle, brought down the capping tool centered on top, and squeezed until the top secured itself to the bottle. I went through all the filled pieces, feeling a bit like an assembly line worker. Once I had placed the capped bottles into a storage container, I continued filling and capping until all the beer was siphoned from the bucket.

I had made quite a mess of the kitchen floor, but I was quite thrilled with my progress; in two weeks I would be able to taste alcohol that I had made!

Making Wort (231st new thing).

January 3, 2012 § 3 Comments

I bought a brewing kit from Midwest Brewing Supplies and pulled out all the pieces on Day Two Hundred Thirty-One. I was going to brew beer, or at least take the first step in the process. I would make wort (pronounced “wert”).

Brewing in the Kitchen

I began my brewing adventure by turning on the DVD included with my purchase. I watched about twenty minutes before deciding that I, armed with the photocopied instructions included in the kit, was ready to become a brewmaster.

The video instructor encouraged the brewer to pop open a homebrewed beer, but since this would be my first experience making booze, I opted for a Dale’s Pale Ale instead. Then I began seeping the bag of grains from my amber ale kit for half an hour at just under a boiling temperature. The liquid turned a pretty, light amber brown before I took the bag out of the hot water. Our house was filled with it’s earthy wheat scent.

Next I followed the precise directions and removed the pot from the heat and added a half gallon of thick, molasses-like barley malt. I stirred continuously as the malt oozed slowly from its jug. Once it had mostly dissolved, I poured in my first set of hops and returned the pot to the boil.

I brew a wort of many colors.

As the mixture heated up, a green foam appeared at the boil. This was the tricky part, as the video had told me. Boil overs are messy, difficult to clean up. The man had talked about them so much that I ended up doing extra internet searches on the phenomenon just to avoid it. I was really nervous, but for no reason. During the entire hour I sat watching it boil, none of the liquid tipped over the edge of my pot. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

Besides warning against boil overs, most homebrew sources also warn about contamination. EVERYTHING has to be sanitized, from your fermentation bucket to your siphoning tubes to your spoon. Fortunately my kit came with a tub of santitizing powder, but the entire time I was in constant fear of introducing some crazy new strain of bacteria into my beer and instantly killing or making sick anyone whose lips came in contact with the drink. I double sanitized all my tools. Better safe than sorry, right?

After the wort was done boiling (with my second ounce of hops added twenty minutes before the end of the hour process), I poured the contents of my pot into my five gallon bucket (another kit inclusion) and began to try to cool it down before adding yeast. I succeeded in dropping the temperature by adding all of the ice from the freezer, then topping off the bucket with cold water to the fill line. I took the wort’s temperature and found it to be below 80 degrees. Hooray. The next step is to stir like mad, pour the wort from one bucket to another, or use some crazy drill extension to add air to the mixture. The yeast need oxygen apparently. I chose option one since I lacked the materials for option three and option two seemed like a recipe for a giant mess. I had survived without a boil over, why test my luck?

I “pitched” the yeast (or sprinkled it on top of my wort) and sealed the bucket, being careful to slowly insert my (super sanitized) air lock. The air lock is a device brewers use to see the beer fermentation process. Bubbles are supposed to form after a couple days, and when the little air pockets cease to rise more than once a minute, it could be time to transfer your fermenting ale into a secondary fermentation bottle, usually a glass carboy (which looks like one of those Crystal water coolers turned upside down). I didn’t have a carboy (it wasn’t included in the kit), so I was just going to let everything sit in the bucket for a couple weeks before bottling.

I began to worry after a couple days when I didn’t see any bubbles rising in my airlock. I frantically googled what could be wrong before realizing I had neglected to add a little water to the device. I was expecting bubbles along the vein of spit bubbles, where the fermentation process took up so much space in my bucket that it literally bubbled out. So I missed that part of the process.

In addition, I would be unable to tell someone what the alcohol content of my amber ale would be. This thing called a hydrometer was included in my brewing kit, and it’s used to measure specific gravity of a liquid. So with some fancy mathematical equation taking the measurements before and after fermentation, you can calculate the alcohol content. But since the hydrometer looked like a wayward thermometer for an elephant to me and I was already a bit overwhelmed with limiting boil overs and sanitizing everything, I hadn’t the energy to figure out how to use the strange device. Maybe it can be another activity for another brew.

After I sealed my five gallon bucket I stuck it in the corner of the dining room to fester ferment. I lit a candle to erase a little of the intense brewery odor lingering in the house and had another pale ale. I couldn’t wait until two weeks went by so I could take the next step and bottle my amber ale.

Giant Beer at Lakewood (141st new thing).

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Day One Hundred Forty-One found me going to Lakewood Amphitheater with Patrick to see Band of Horses opening up for Kings of Leon. While I had been to Lakewood a couple times before in my teenage years, I had never been old enough to consume one of their giant 24 ounce beers. It was huge.

We didn’t know if we were going to be able to attend the show; Patrick played baseball as a kid with Ben, the lead singer of the band, and also tour managed for them many years ago. However, being the opening act at the beginning of (what was supposed to be) a two month tour did not afford the band any comp tickets, so for a brief moment we thought we would get in by masquerading as crew. That would have been pretty cool (and probably have made for a better new thing),  being a fake roadie. In the end, Patrick got tickets from their tour manager, so we had real tickets for real seats.

The people watching at the amphitheater was unreal. I find myself openly staring at people these days, day dreaming about their back story and what they do and think. Dudes dressed as rockers in a tight all black ensemble, dads sitting with their underage daughters and daughter’s friends, women in girlfriend groups drinking 24 ounce bud light and dancing like my mom would. It was unbelievable eye candy,  and I was tasting the sugar. I should probably learn to curb the blatant staring.

Band of Horses sounded great, even though Ben broke a string in the second song. I opted out of seeing them open for Archers of Loaf a few days before, so I was glad I got to see the Charleston based quintet play this year. I like Kings of Leon too, in that I own their first second album, and maybe the secondthird, but have really only listened to the former. Patrick is not  a fan, so we only stayed through a few songs before our stomachs informed us it was time to eat something that was not served off of a paper plate or napkin. As we walked out, KOL (as the “cool” people call them) were busting into a very alt-country sounding number that drove the frat boys and their short shorted girlfriends mad with excitement. I had heard a couple songs from Aha Shake Heartbreak, so I was ready to say goodbye to their crazy drunken fans.

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