Friday, November 17, 2006

My Kitchen Smells Like Beer

In an ongoing effort to make simple things more time consuming and slightly cheaper, I have begun brewing my own beer. This is something I had been considering for years and after I brewed a gallon of fantastic porter from a kit I was given as a gift, well, I was hooked. My second 5 gallon batch is in a secondary fermenter in the corner of my kitchen and will with any luck be bottled this weekend.

For my birthday in September I asked my family to give me gift certificates to the local homebrew supply shop, Niagara Traditions Homebrew. From them I bought an easy and cost effective kit and brewed 5 gallons of stout. I used a prepackaged brewing kit for ingredients and got a nice, basic, roasty sort of stout. Brewing from a prepackaged kit is akin to making a box cake, and perfectly serviceable for a first batch.

When I started my second batch I had to label the first so that I could tell them apart. I didn't give the stout any sort of cute names since it wasn't an original recipe, just a kit, but I did browse the internet for an appropriate picture.

For some reason I have always associated the word "stout" with suffragettes. I think it's something about the determined and impenetrable bosom. This photo is accompanied by the word "stout" in bold letters on all the remaining bottles. My plan is to cellar the last bottle or two of this and every batch to drink at some later date, possibly to compare a year's worth of beer at a time.

The batch waiting patiently in it's fermenter next to the rabbit cage is a pumpkin ale made according to a recipe in the book my friend Cat gave me as a gift at the end of the summer. It was fun to make as the recipe included a whole pumpkin. I used one from my Dad's garden. Pumpkin ale makes an unbelievable mess when you are trying to slop it from the brew pot where it was recently boiling through a colander and into a fermenter (i.e. 5 gallon white plastic bucket) placed on the kitchen floor. I splattered the floor and cupboards with hot sticky sweet wort. Please never do this in my mother's kitchen. I don't mind a quick mopping up at 11 o'clock on a Sunday night, but the sight would have given her a heart attack.

This time around I came up with a label design while I was boiling the wort. Having realized that my computer graphics skills are limited, and remembering that I don't own photoshop, drawing allows me much more control over the finished label, and is probably faster too. I may make a secondary label for the back of the bottle listing ingredients, alcohol content, and a warning not to drink beer if you're knocked up, but this is the finished front label.

As fermentation progresses I need to take regular samples of the beer and read them with a hydrometer to determine if fermentation is complete and I am ready to bottle. Since it would contaminate the batch to return the sample to the fermenter, I have been happily drinking each sample to see what it tastes like so far. Since the carbonation will be added in the bottle, the samples are flat, but otherwise it seems like it will become a medium bodied ale, somewhere between a brown ale and a red ale, with an added pumpkin and spice flavor in the background. Also from my tasting I have a feeling that the folks who wrote my recipe book are much fonder of hops than I am, so I will be cutting back on the hops content of any of their other recipes that I brew.

The stout was brewed with mostly malt but some sugar in the wort, and sugar for bottling. I find it lighter in body than I would like, so the pumpkin ale has only malt in the wort, although I will still bottle with sugar. If that doesn't give me the amount of body I want, I will make a porter next, and if that still doesn't do it I will have to start indiscriminately adding more malt to all my future recipes.

I also desire a scotch ale in the near future.

If I bottle this weekend the beer will be ready to drink the week after Thanksgiving. Drat! Next year if I do another pumpkin ale I'll need to start it in early October. This year's batch will be served as a Christmas beer.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What Canada has to offer

Finally, some knitting to show. Much progress has been made on the satin angora/soy silk/cashmere stole. I knitted several swatches of it quite a while ago, but was unwilling to post them or choose one until I had found the embroidered fabric for my wedding dress. Chris and I spent two Saturdays looking for fabric, first in Toronto, especially in Little India, then in Hamilton. Fabric we liked completely eluded us in Toronto, although we did eat some great Indian food and dim sum, and spent time in Lush and in our favorite Toronto comic book shop. Luckily Hamilton came through for us, and also gave us the chance to eat pierogies and schnitzle and shop at IKEA.

My knitted swatches accompanied us to the shops. My sketch of the dress accompanied us on the second trip after Chris reprimanded me for not having it on the first. He got a post it note version for the first trip.

All of the stitch patterns shown are from Barbara Walker. The top pattern is rose trellis lace, then razor shell or new shell, then feather and fan or old shell, with cobweb frill finishing the bottom. The second picture shows sunspots and ogee lace. I loved the cobweb frill as soon as I knit it. This will be perfect at either end of a long rectangular stole. It finishes the ends nicely and is so much more elegant than fringe for a lace stole. I've been swatching the ogee lace for years, trying to use it somewhere, but it's been either the wrong scale or looked wrong in the yarn I was using. This is where I finally get to knit it. I was pretty sure ogee lace was the pattern I wanted as soon as I had knit it, but I wanted to wait to see what sort of shapes the embroidery made on the fabric for the dress: whether it was curving like the ogee or more geometric like the rose trellis. Interestingly, although all the swatches are knitted on the same needles, I think the ogee pattern will need to be knit one needle size larger, even though all the other patterns look lovely at this gauge. Just goes to show you how important swatching is! I blocked all the swatches too. I've learned the hard way that you have to block a lace swatch to get an accurate gauge and to see what it will really look like when finished.

We looked at a lot of fabric, none of it quite what we wanted, until we found this in Hamilton, just before the shops closed.

What you're looking at is an embroidered and beaded net with a scalloped border. The right side is laid on a black card so you can see the detail in the embroidery. Each flower is filled with five bugle beads in the petals in shades of silver and gold. The left side is laid on a natural color silk similar to the silk satin which will be the main fabric of the dress. I didn't try to buy silk satin in Canada because silk is sometimes tricky to bring across the border. I don't know the details; it has something to do with country of origin even though we can often buy the same fabric from the same country here in the US. Whatever the reason, it's easier to mail order from Thai silks in California, although the shop owner in Hamilton looked disdainful when I said so.

One of the things I liked about this fabric was it's mottled appearance. Western wedding dresses can be painfully dull in their monochrome. Chris tried to talk me into a pale blue dress, which is when I realized I did want to get married in white-ish, but with a little color and interest. This was one of only a few off-white fabrics that included some subtle color and variation. It also goes well with the stole, don't you think?

After we bought the fabric we wandered into Yarnopolis, which stays open a full hour later than the fabric stores. We were high on the excitement of finally finding what we wanted, and finally having one concrete thing accomplished towards getting married this spring, and Chris, who has excellent taste, fell in love with a skein of Manos del Uruguay yarn. Since he is the world's most interested and helpful groom when it comes to buying dress fabric, I couldn't say "no" to his big brown eyes (which look so good with this colorway). I started knitting him a scarf that night.

You should know if you haven't knitted manos yet, it's lovely to knit. Very co-operative, and it feels wonderful running through my fingers. He's a lucky guy, and since it's an easy scarf pattern, he'll soon be a warmer guy. Good thing since it snowed today.