Category Archives: Drinks

Beer Making Kits

John Drinks

beer-making-kits

I know some people are very anti-beer making kits. They would rather buy all the equipment and ingredients on their ownin order to create a unique brew or follow a recipe. I certainly enjoy the hunt for that certain flavor of hops or a unique spice to add to my batch. I also like talking to other brewers about what they use and why. But I am not as hostile toward starter or recipe kits as some of my fellow homebrewers.

First of all, I think kits are a great place to start. Especially when you buy a kit with the equipment. Creating a beer is kind of like cooking—even if you follow the recipe to the best of your ability, there is still a huge margin of error. And when you are just starting out, you might not know the difference between the incredible variety of ingredients out there. You may accidentally get something wrong and make a terrible batch of beer. That is a crime in and of itself, but it also may discourage you from trying again.That would be an even bigger shame. Kits give you more of a direction and less margin for error. The science of beermaking can be tough to figure out, so a kit that has all the right ratios and ingredients that are going to taste good together can boost your confidence.

Secondly, sometimes kits are just easier if you want a specific flavor. Instead of hunting down everything you need, you can purchase a recipe kit with everything already measured out and good to go. Some companies offer advanced recipe kits that will challenge even the more experienced among us. It really depends on the level of effort you want to put in. I like to read about the different kit varieties and sometimes I’ll find one that sounds super intriguing. So then I’ll order it.

My third and final reason is a financial one: they can be cheaper. Let’s face it, this can be an expensive hobby. It can be overwhelming to try and figure out what you need to buy to get started or to make a batch of what you want. When you buy an equipment kit (usually a starter set), you already know you have the things that you need. The same goes for a recipe kit. You get what you need to make the batch, so you aren’t wasting money on unused ingredients or have anything leftover that ends up going to waste.

I just like to share my hobby with others. I don’t really care how any of us go about it. And if I’m tasting someone’s homemade beer, I really don’t care if the ingredients came from a kit or if they were purchased individually. I’m just happy to have a buddy to share a handcrafted beer with!

Beer is for Cooking, Too!

John Drinks

Because this blog is home to all things beer, I wanted to point out something you may not be aware of: you can actually cook with beer. Yes, really! I’ve done it a few times now and have really become a fan. I’ve even started brewing some beers specifically to cook with. Most of the alcohol burns off as you cook, which means that you don’t have to worry about getting drunk from your food. There really is no wrong way to cook with beer, but I will give you one easy rule to keep in mind. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. Simple, right? If you don’t like the flavor of a beer, trust me, it won’t appeal to you more when you have to eat it!

The light flavor in wheat beers are an excellent add to cheddar broccoli soup or paired with fish. Porters, lighter than a stout and lacking the bitterness of an ale, are excellent in a stew or dessert like brownies. Speaking of ales, pale ales are excellent when you want to beer-batter anything—homemade chicken strips anyone? If you ever want to make bread, throw in a lager. Beer bread is a thing, and you will want it all the time.If stout is your thing, I can’t even begin to tell you how many recipes there are out there that involve cooking with Guinness. I heard the click of the lightbulb over your head all of a sudden. I basically just planned your St. Patrick’s Day dinner menu just now, didn’t I? You’re welcome!

Even the cheap stuff can get in on the action. One of my favorites is beer can chicken. I’d rather have it for Thanksgiving than turkey, that’s how good it is. Want to know how to make it? Listen carefully: buy a whole chicken. Take off the neck and do whatever you want with the giblets as long as they are away from your bird. Rinse it because chickens are dirty. Dry it off, rub it with oil and salt/pepper (or whatever other herbs you want). Get a can of beer. Drink about half—maybe pour it into a glass first. Shove the can with the other half of the beer still inside into the butt of the bird and stand that on the grill (indirect heat, for sure. Nothing directly under the bird). Cover the grill and in about an hour and 15 minutes, you will have one amazing chicken. Seriously. So easy, and you get to have some beer, too!

You can also substitute beer in any recipe that calls for wine. Just be smart about it—think about the flavor you want to develop before you dump in whatever beer you have leftover. White wines are better swapped out for something lighter and crisp, while bolder and darker brews will hold up fine in red wine dishes. Beer adds a more toasty, earthy flavor, which makes any dish go from a fancy-pants restaurant quality plate that you’re afraid to touch to gourmet comfort food in a flash.

So what do you say? Potluck at my place soon?

It’s Finally Fall

John Drinks

I love the fall. First of all, I hate the heat of summer. I hate shorts and I hate sandals—at least on guys, I do. There just aren’t that many dudes that can pull that look off. In the summer, I also have to be careful how much I drink because it’s easy to dehydrate when you’re having abeer in the heat. I also hate winter. Mostly because I hate all of the stupid snow and the shoveling. Oh—the shoveling! I almost want to move somewhere warmer just so I won’t have to do that anymore. I cannot wait for the day when my son is old enough that I can turn over the dreaded task of snow removal to him and feed his probable eagerness to buy a car. And I’m allergic to spring, so that’s out. Every flower, every green spot on the trees and in the lawn make me sneeze.

But fall—I like fall. There’s leaf raking, sure, but at least the weather is tolerable when I am out there toiling away. The kids are back in school and stop driving my wife crazy with all their summertime demands for attention, which means she’s in a better mood—and that means the quality of life improves for every single person in the whole house, let me tell you. Fall is also time for football, which is my favorite of all sports. My weekends in the fall are totally set: Saturday college football and Sunday is the NFL game. Makes things easy. I am a guy of routine, after all.

Another thing I like about fall is the beer. That should have been obvious to you, right? There are lots of Oktoberfest type things that go on, which are “educational” for the kids. My kids are experts on stein designs and lederhosen by now, but also German history (minus, you know, the obviously bad parts; they can get that in school). Poor little devils can’t enjoy the good stuff, because as we all know there is really only one reason to attend any kind of German fall festival:these events are like heaven for any beer aficionado, like myself or you, blog reader. If somebody puts “Oktoberfest” on a bottle of beer, I am going to try it. That’s just the way I am. I just really like the flavors that come out this time of year. I don’t want a pumpkin spice latte but I’ll definitely take a pumpkin spice beer! You know the type: a spicy beer that warms you up on a chilly night with some brown sugar around the mouth of the glass. There’s nothing better after a long day of raking leaves, I promise you that. It takes me forever to rake the front yard, and we don’t even have all that many trees. My neighbor does, though, and we live downwind of him. That means his leaves are actually our leaves. So kind of him to share.

What about you? Anything specific you like about this time of year?

New Addition to the Man Cave

John Drinks

My man cave isn’t a misnomer: it really kind of a cave—it’s in the basement of our house and there is only one tiny window. I’ve got a nice sized tv in there, the lounge chair from my bachelor days, and the requisite sports décor. There was really only one thing missing: a bar.

Seems odd that someone who loves homebrewing and beer as much as I do would be lacking a bar, doesn’t it? Well—I remedied that this week, folks! And by remedied, I mean I spent a bunch of money on a truckload of wood, tools, stain, and hardware (literally. The bed of my truck was full) to build myself a custom bar. I figured a handcrafted beer deserves a handcrafted bar, right?

I am not what you would call incredibly gifted with tools, but between the plans I bought online and some handy dandy youtube videos, I was confident that I’d be able to figure the whole thing out. Measure twice, cut once and all that. The wife was doubtful as I sat and watched DIY videos one after the other. It took me about a week before I felt even remotely confident enough to go back to the hardware store and ask them to walk me through a few things, haha. Then I really looked at the plans, and I felt a lot better. Basically, I would be making a rectangular box with a top. No intricate designs, no curves anywhere. I could do most of it with a good saw, some nails, and a hammer.

That was all I needed to hear! Two weeks ago, I cut all the wood (after measuring twice, of course). I stained it all after the cutting was done because I wanted to be able to put it together as one big day long project.  I didn’t want the waiting for paint dry stuff to screw up my whole weekend. This worked out OK for me because I could paint a few pieces after work every night and let them dry as I went along. I wrapped up the painting and staining on a Thursday so that everything would be dry that coming Saturday for the big assembly day: my big plan was to get it all together in one day, and then be able to break in the new bar on Sunday in time for the big game.

I started assembly of the bar and the going was slow but it went. Staining it beforehand meant I needed to be a little more careful than I wanted to be so that I didn’t damage the finish of the bar. It happened a little anyway, especially on the top, which meant that I needed to do a little bit of touch up work with the stain. But my bar was done on Saturday, and I was able to add some (store bought) bar stools in time for the game.

Man cave: complete. It is officially the coolest room in the whole house.

Experimenting With my Latest Batch

John Drinks

This might not sound newsworthy to you, but I am conducting a bit of an experiment with my next batch of beer. I know, I know. The saying is that just about every homebrew batch is an experiment unless you only make the same thing using the same ingredients every time (and I’ve never met anybody who does that—it feels like it defeats the purpose of making your own beer to me.) But this is a little different. I am using the same beer making ingredients in each batch because they aren’t the part I am experimenting with.

I am trying to find out what kind of water makes the best beer. This could be a giant waste of my time, but I figured I would try. There are a couple of standing opinions on this, and of course they disagree. As a kid, I was always taught to form my own opinions, and that is what I am trying to do. First, I had to familiarize myself with the two most common camps of theory in the matter.

The first argument is that water doesn’t really matter in the long run. As long as it isn’t polluted or otherwise obviously bad, it will have no adverse effect on whatever you make. The logic behind this theory is that water doesn’t actually add flavor to the beer. That’s what the hops/malts/yeast do. And I agree with that, to an extent. For the most part, I can’t even taste the difference between water that comes out of a bottle and the water I get from the dispenser on my fridge. So I can see where this school of thought comes from.

However, I am starting to shift my opinion to the other theory in homebrewing. It states that because water is actually the largest component in the beer, it plays a vital role that should not be overlooked. Their theory is that the pH of the water can actually mess with the character of the ingredients that do give beer its taste.

My interest started after I had a long conversation with my brother in law, who just moved with my sister down south. They are having hard water problems and he was saying how it even changes the properties of the soap down there—it is hard to get soap to do anything. It made me wonder if the wrong type of water could affect the processes necessary to make beer and develop flavor. Because I can buy the finest ingredients in the world, but if that water is ruining the ingredients or hampering the yeast growth or something, it won’t matter.

So I decided to try some distilled water, two brands of bottled water, and then regular tap water that I put through a filter. I want to see which one ends up tasting the best. I’ll let you know if there is a significant difference between them once everything is ready!