Thursday, April 21, 2011

Garden: Hopping into Spring


Been a while since I posted a non-beer post. It's a nice day so I went out and took some photos of the Spring garden prep.

The hops are all coming up and doing ok so far, given the worst Spring on record. These are the 2nd year Tettenangers and they're doing the best of the lot. I repotted all the hops into 18 gallon tubs last fall. Got them at Fred Meyer for about $4 each, drilled some drainage holes, put some fresh potting soil in, and repotted the plants. Hopefully this will solve some of the watering and root-binding issues I had last year. Hops like space.

Nevertheless the plant has developed a soft yellowing in the leaves. Don't think it's a disease, maybe just a slight nitrogen deficiency? I'd applied some 9-4-7 organic fertilizer a month or two back but it didn't seem enough. So I've decided that, where the hops are concerned, I'm relaxing my generally organic principles. Last year the hops were sickly and prone to insect problems. This year I'm hitting them with some 20-20-20 Miracle Grow every few weeks. Hopefully that heavier fertilization will make them more robust, so that I have fewer fungal and insect problems over all. Still not going to be spraying DDT around or anything...

The Tettenangers and Cascades get the most sun, but the Centennial and Chinook are coming up as well. This time of year they still get a fair amount of shade though. Stupid tilt of the Earth and my neighbor's roofline. Also, as you can see I gave all the hops a layer of organic compost a couple weeks back. This should keep the weeds down and seep in some more nutrients.

There is a school of thought, particularly among commercial growers, that you should trim back the early hop shoots and allow later shoots to grow as the weather improves. My suspicion is that in areas that get less sun and cooler seasons, the hops need all the help they can get. So I'm not trimming mine back. Just going to watch them and see if any mildews are attacking and treat accordingly. If this Spring and Summer are going to be as cool as they say, seems to me the more time the plant has to grow leaves the better. Now that these are 3rd and 2nd year plants I will be trimming back to just six shoots per plant though, three on each line. I'll be pickling the trimmed shoots in a few weeks. Also: my over-wintered parsley and chives are both very happy.

The garden is in a holding pattern of sorts right now. My winter kales have all bolted and been picked. You can see the last Collards have bolted and so are going into a Portuguese Linguica stew tonight. You can see the bed in the back is covered with compost. Tomatoes will go there. Probably in June... sigh. The last of the over-wintered leeks are in their pot, and I planted a row of shallots in another long row-pot. Planted some fresh sage in the little black pot, since last year's didn't make it through winter. In the same pot is the sad, sad remains of the sorrel. Something, I don't know what, ate it down to the roots. Mowed down like a lawnmower. Squirrels? My dog? An army of slugs? It's a mystery. But there are signs that it's not dead yet, so I'll see if I can get it to grow back. The mint in those two pots, had died back for Winter but it's coming back with a vengeance. Mojito time!

Cold Frames

Last Fall I found some sliding glass doors and decided to turn them into cold frames. Well, it's been 6 months, how did they do?

Overall they did best in the late Fall and later this Spring. In Dec-Feb I really got little noticeable growth of anything in them. I think this is partly due to the location, they get shaded most of Winter there. Also, it's our Maritime Northwest Winter. What little sun we get doesn't have much umph behind it. Still, in the worst Spring on record my little winter lettuces and mustard greens are doing great, and the garlic is loving it. Planted a row of shallots in there, and some green onions. Just sowed another round of lettuces, mizuna, and mustard greens in there too.

The other frame has been replanted for Spring. In the back I sowed a row of Sugar Snap Peas. In front of them are some Ruby Orach Spinach. Both of these did fantastically last year. In the front I put in some Purple Mustard Greens. These did great last Spring. Also sowed some lettuce around, will harvest when small before the Spinach and Greens get huge. The glass has protected these guys from some hail storms recently. So that's nice.

But how well do they trap the heat? I was wondering that, so I took my infra-red laser thermometer out and tested the soil surface. It was 58 degrees outside around noon.

In the shade of the bed.

In the sunny part of the bed.

Not too shabby! And this is with the beds propped open about 4" for airflow. May move the frame off the pea-bed and onto the tomato bed until the 'maters get fully established. Rather than the flimsy plastic cloche I cobbled together last year.


Planted two varieties for this year's experiment in growing potatoes in odd things. Warba, a high yield all-rounder and Rose Finn, an early season red fingerling. Hope to get two rounds of the Finns, will plant the next round in a couple weeks. As you can see I'm trying something new this year: tires. Just stack and fill as the plants grow!

Good thing the forest roads around eat my low-profile tires... Wait, no. Well at least I have several dead tires around for this project.
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Monday, April 18, 2011

Brewday: ASBO Bitter

I always find it fascinating how law and beer are historically related.

We all know about the effect of the Reinheitsgebot on German lagers. But let's take British Bitters. By American standards, these are some light, wimpy beers. An Ordinary bitter clocks in around 3.7% ABV, Standard bitters around 4.2% and the mighty ESB or Special Bitters around 5%. This can lead to warnings from well-intentioned publicans of "Careful with that one, it's strong!" Despite the fact that most of our familiar NW "session" beers are at least as strong or stronger. As so often happens in history, the reason for this has to do with Victorian England.

In 1880 the Free Mash Tun Act shifted beer taxes from a tax on individual ingredients (malt and hops), to a beer tax based solely on the original gravity of the beer. Beers above 1.057 original gravity were taxed more highly than those with lower gravities. One interesting side effect of this is that the tax and regulations didn't care where that extract came from, so the use of sugars (treacle and invert sugar, for example) and cereals, like corn, increased dramatically. Hence the presence of Lyle's Golden Syrup in many homebrew recipes.

But the most important impact of this law is that, as so often happens, vice taxes tend to rise. The original 1880 tax rate was not that heavy, and beers averaged around 1.055. But by the 1920's, to help pay for the Great War, taxes were very high indeed. At that time Bass is reported to have been spending about 53% of its total production costs in taxes! The trend only continued. On top of the increased tax rate, the 1.057 baseline from 1880 was dropped to 1.037 by 1950. So the incentive was to brew weaker beers, that turned around quickly. IPAs and Old Ales went nearly extinct. Fortunately, since then tax burdens have been relaxed a little and the CAMRA/Craft Brew movement has helped increase demand for more expensive, stronger beers. For more on the remarkable history of British Pale Ales check out Foster's Pale Ale, 1999.

So Americans think of British Ales as low-alcohol, warm, flat, and fruity. But is this a bad thing? For a house beer, absolutely not!


A decade ago in order to combat a wave of perceived lawlessness the UK introduced the ASBO or Anti-Social Behaviour Order, a civil order covering a variety of misdemeanors designed to combat, wait for it, anti-social behavior. Basically, it grants license to magistrates to spank yobbos for minor crimes and has become generally associated with juvenile delinquency.

I'd set out to make a little session Ordinary Bitter. Something pleasant and British, and about 1.037 O.G. so that I'd have a nice 3.7%ish house beer to quaff by the imperial pint and wake up hangover free the next morning. Well, as often happens, efficiency increases on small beers and I ended up with a mighty 1.041 O.G., moving it into Standard Bitter territory. Oooooooh! So in reflection of the warnings about the dangers of "strong" British beer, I decided that this was clearly liquid delinquency in a can. (Though here we just call that Four Loko)


10.5 gallons, All Grain
O.G. Est 1.038, O.G. Act 1.041
Est ABV: 3.7%, Est Act ABV 4.1%.
10 SRM, 30 IBU
Calculated at 75% efficiency, got about 80%. :/
  • 12.5 lbs Gambrinus ESB malt
  • 12 oz Crystal 120
  • 4 oz Organic Crystal 40
  • 8 oz Special Roast
  • 4 oz Flaked Wheat
Mashed in at 153, mashed out 168.

Mash Water Treatment: 4 gm Gypsum, 1 gm CaCl2. Boil Water Treatment: 9 gm Gypsum, 2 gm CaCl2. Should get the Ca up around 100, SO4 up around 130, and Cl around 30. Mash pH was 5.2.

90 min boil.
  • 2.25 oz Willamette, leaf, 5.1% AA, at First Wort
  • 0.75 oz Willamette @ 30 min.
  • Whirlfloc tab @ 15.
  • 1 oz Willamette @ flame out.
Used Willamette because I have a lot of it around. It's the US version of Fuggles, which is a bit harsher and spicier than the standard Kent Goldings, but when I ordered in my massive hop stockpile part of the deal was no more buying hops if I can sub something close. We'll see if it's an ok substitute. Used 4oz because I vacuum sealed them in 4oz blocks.

Cooled to 66 pretty quickly. Very clear wort.

Yeast choice is important for British Ales. For smaller bitters you want a yeast that will produce some fruity esters and has an attenuation on the lower end, around 70%. Otherwise it will be dry and over-bitter. So I pitched a quart of Danstar Windsor Ale yeast, saved off a previous brew. Fermenting in my 15 gallon conical, temp reading was 70 this morning. Luverly. I've had some good luck with this strain, but it doesn't floc well, and forms a top crop. Some careful racking and/or isinglass is in order.

Once it's done I'll probably cask condition it in kegs. British beers like cellar temperatures and there is an unheated room in my basement that's holding about 55. I'll just keep the kegs in there and hook up a cobra tap to it, goose it with co2 every now and again to push it.

Then let the reign of 4% fueled ASBO lawlessness begin!
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