Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Saint Somewhere Brewing

Firkin Around...Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Beautiful location, beautiful logos, beautiful Belgian style ales. You get all three from Saint Somewhere Brewing Company, located in Tarpon Springs on Florida's west coast. Tarpon Springs is situated on the edge of The Gulf of Mexico, and is a throwback to the heyday of old Florida. This tiny town of 20,000 plus has been drawing notice since the late 1800's and boasts the largest Greek American population in America. Driving through the downtown area, you can't help but be captivated by its beauty and charm.

The Brewery, Saint Somewhere

I first met Bob Sylvester, owner and brew master of Saint Somewhere, at a beer festival in Pinellas Park back in May. We exchanged names and business cards over a few samples of his Saison Athene. He mentioned that he sends out an email each time bottling days approach the brewery. Bob suggested I sign up, and participate with other volunteers. I am glad I did.

Bottled, corked and caged
Bob insists on using authentic brewing methods in the traditional Belgian style when it comes to making his ales. Everything is clearly handcrafted from brew day, all the way to bottling day. He uses local water and selected grains, and yeast to perfect his brews. The artwork on the labels, (also found on their website), is simply gorgeous. The name, "Saint Somewhere", he admits, is borrowed from the lyrics of Jimmy Buffet's song, 'Boat Drinks'.

Needless to say, when I got the email to attend the excitement began to build. I had no idea what the day would hold in store. Upon reaching Tarpon Springs, my mind switched to auto-pilot as I listened to the GPS call out the turns. I was able to take in the beauty of the town as my truck wound its way down one street after another. Bob had quipped in the email, "Call if you get lost. You won't be the first." Luckily, the trusty GPS navigated me right into the commercial park with ease.

Bottle Stations
Stepping inside the large roll up door, it was easy to spot the tools of the beer making trade. The mash tuns were along the side and back walls. A filling station, cork presses and sanitizing equipment rounded out the assembly area. Hands washed, equipment thoroughly sanitized, we quickly began the rinsing, draining, filling, corking, wire basket-ing and boxing of the liquid gold. The day's handcrafted brew was Pays du Soleil. The name translates to "Country of the Sun". Quite a fitting name for a beer brewed in Florida.

Hard at work
So the day went on. One case after another of empty bottles was opened, sanitized, filled, and corked. We were clicking like a well oiled machine. Due to a lack of labels, we skipped the process of bottle labeling for the day. Everyone worked hard and stayed hydrated. Some switched stations from time to time. Bob kept a steady watch along the workstations, ensuring that the newbies were getting it right. Before long there were several pallets of freshly brewed and bottled ale. We had finished all this in only a few hours.

Spoils of the day.
Lunch time
Just as the final bottles were corked and capped, the tables were rearranged and sub sandwiches and boxes of delicious pizza arrived, almost as if by magic! Plates and tulip glassware were distributed. The popping of corks, from previously bottled Pays du Soleil and Athene Saison, were heard. Some of the volunteers had brought their home brews for all to sample. There was an Imperial Stout that was mighty fine, and a Peach flavored beer that was delicious. The mood was lighthearted and everyone was enjoying good food, good beer and good conversation.
Sharing is caring.

Beyond the food and bottling experience, Bob sends you whistling out of the place with six of the freshly bottled ales. Though they won't be ready to uncork for a while, (still need bottle conditioning for several weeks), I anticipate opening the stuff at a future date. It is an understatement to say that this ranks as one of the most fun things I've done as the result of a hobby. If your passion is good beer, craft beer that is, make it a point to support your local brewer if they have a similar program.

Tappin' the Firkin!

Saint Somewhere Brewing Company
1441 Savannah Avenue ~ Suite E
Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

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Friday, June 18, 2010

First Time Home Brewing - Bottling (Part 2 of 4)

Firkin Around...The Kitchen.

Beer in the raw
Bottling day has come.  Is it beer yet?  No not yet, but it is getting there.  Before you get down to bottling, tap off a few ounces of the beer and taste it.  Go on, don't be afraid...try some.  If you are lucky, it will taste like flat beer.  That's a good sign.  If it is a bit sweet and sugary, it will need to ferment for a few days longer.  The sweetness means that the yeast hasn't eaten up all of the sugars form the HME.  Mine was fine.  It was not carbonated, murky in color and not sweet.  All these will be corrected during the bottle conditioning phase.

Okay, it's time to get the beer into the bottles.  Two days ago, I moved the keg from its slumber in the closet back into the kitchen.  I kept a towel wrapped around the keg to keep it in darkness.  The reason I moved it two days ahead of bottling, was to let any suspended particles settle down to the bottom of the keg.  As I walked it down the hallway, it sloshed a bit in the keg.  So move it ahead of time. A good practice if you want the clearest beer possible.

Sanitizing the bottles
Next  thing was to get the other half of the sanitizer remaining from brew day and mix a batch to pour into each bottle.   The same preparation goes into the sterilization process; anything coming into contact with the beer must be thoroughly sanitized.  So caps and measuring spoons go into the sterilizer.  I also purchased a short length of clear aquarium tubing to extend to the end of the keg tap.  This will allow the beer to fill from the bottom of the bottle without splashing and introducing oxygen.  Oxygenation is the enemy of your beer at this point, so handle it carefully.  Be sure to sanitize the tubing with the other components.  Shake the bottles vigorously and let them stand for ten minutes.  Pour out the sanitizer; skip the rinsing.

Bottle conditioning is the key.

Adding priming sugar
Follow the instruction pamphlet's recommended amounts for sugar, used to prime each bottle.  There are different ratios for each bottle's ounce size.  A small sanitized funnel is handy for this purpose to help get the sugar into each bottle.  You can choose corn sugar (preferred) or plain white table sugar.  It will be the food for the yeast to consume as it bottle conditions for the next two weeks.  The CO2 dispelled will naturally carbonate your brew.  Okay, priming is done, so now it's time to fill the bottles.

Filler' up!
Connect the tube to the end of the tap spout and insert into the bottle.  Pull down on the tap handle and fill the bottle just up to the crown of the bottle neck.  You should leave about 2.5 inches of space in the neck to allow a space for the CO2 to build up as it conditions.  Cap the bottle tightly and rock the bottle back and forth to incorporate the priming sugar into the beer.  Repeat until all eight bottles are filled and capped.  You will notice if using the PET plastic bottles, they will get hard at this point as the magic begins to happen. You can now open the top of the keg and see how much beer is left over.  I had a little extra left over and was lucky enough to have a ceramic bail-top  12 ounce beer bottle with a rubber gasket handy.  I sanitized the bottle and its components, primed with the correct amount of sugar for the smaller bottle size and filled with the remaining beer.  Waste not, want not!  It will become my 'tester' bottle for two weeks from now, allowing me to sample a bit early.

Back into a cool and dark environment for another two weeks.  Again, sit back and be patient.  Ideally, let them bottle condition for two more weeks.

Firkin Making The Beer!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First Time Homebrewing - Fermenting (Part 1 of 4)

Firkin Around...The Kitchen.

So you wanna' home brew? Do you have what it takes?  It's easier than you think.  All you need to get started in the hobby is one of these kits shown at the right.  Fortunately for me, I received one from my daughter for a gift.  Home brewing was on the short list of my 2010 New Years resolutions, so now there was no excuse.

You won't need any expensive outlay of cash on coolers, pots, thermometers, bottles, grain, grain mills, caps, cap got the picture?  Trust me, it's all in there.  Everything you need for 2 batches (8 liters each batch) is in the box.

All you need is a couple hours total over 6 weeks and you too can make beer in your own home.  Now for you experienced home brewers, stop your snickering.  I have it on very good information that many of you started out this way, before becoming mad scientists in your back yard or garage.  Admit it; at the very least, it will bring you closer to the thing you love the most - beer!  I will grant you that it is the equivalent of the "Easy Bake Oven ®" for making beer, but beer nonetheless.

It's just like delivering a baby; boil some water and tear up some clean sheets!  You can skip the clean sheets part, unless you are particularly messy.  Let's get started.

Take half a packet of sanitizer and dump it in the keg.  Place all the utensils that will come in contact with your brew inside the keg.  The spoon, spatula, the hand can opener, measuring spoons and cup; put all of it in the keg.  Fill half way with water, cap it up and shake and swirl it all around the inside of the keg.  Let it sit for ten minutes. Spill some onto a plate so you will have a sterile place to rest your utensils.

Adding the booster
Select one of the two cans* of HME (hopped malt extract) that comes with the kit and place the entire unopened can in hot water while your tools are sanitizing.  The hot water will allow the HME to flow easily when you need to add to the your boil.  Speaking of the boil, time to get a half gallon of water boiling then slowly add the alcohol booster packet until fully dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add your can of  HME.

* - Because Dad deserves the best, go for the Premium Mr. Beer kit. It contains everything needed to make two complete two gallon batches of beer. Yeah, baby! 

While the malt hops extract and alcohol booster cool, go back to your fermentation keg and pour out the sanitizing water.  Don't worry about rinsing the keg; it is non-toxic and designed to be a no rinse formula.  It won't affect the taste of your beer.

 Let the fermentation begin !
Topping off the keg
Pour the other 1.5 gallons of water into the keg.   Check the temp of your boil to see if it is below 95 F and then pour into the keg.  Perform these steps in order so as not to 'shock' the plastic of the keg.  The cooler standing water in the keg will help to absorb and lower the temperature.  You will want to pitch the yeast once the temp is below 85 F otherwise you may kill the yeast components.

Pitching the yeast
Let the little yeasties float on top for about 15 minutes and then swirl them vigorously with a spoon so they incorporate into the water.  This will ad some oxygen to the beer, (now becoming the wort).  It is the last time you will want to introduce any oxygen into the beer.  Now it is time to find a quiet dark cool place for your fermentation keg to sit for 10 to 14 days.

You might want to add a strip style aquarium thermometer to the side of the keg.  Be sure it is at the level of the liquid so you get a good reading.  In a day or so, it should read between 75 and 78 degrees.  This is an ideal temp to let the yeast start fermenting the sugars of the malt extract.

Shhh! Be vewy vewy quiet! We're making beer!  Sit back and be patient.  Ideally, let it ferment for two weeks.

Firkin Making The Beer!