Pimientos de Padron

February 16, 2012

After being introduced to the tapas sensation which is Pimientos de Padron, I just knew I had to grow this heirloom variety of chilli.  This Spanish bar-snack is the ultimate in beer food.  Simplicity is its forte – simply whole chillies fried in a pan until softened and starting to brown, then drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Yumbos!

I tracked down Southern Harvest as my seed supplier – they wanted $8 to deliver a pack to my door.  Not exactly cheap, considering that more than half of that was going on postage for a 55c envelope, but hey not going to break the bank either.  I picked up a seed raising tray, which again was a massive rip-off at $19 for the same plastic they make the little trays that chocolate biscuits come in.  But at $30+ a kilo for chillis, I guess I can suck it up.

As you can see below the first shoots have poked through and it’s full-steam ahead for the chilli project!

UPDATE: I planted out 45 seeds and 44 have germinated.  Score!

Brew Book

February 15, 2012

The other day I got my hands on Ashton Lewis’s The Home Brewer’s Answer Book.

This excellent resource has been compiled from 11 years answering the questions column in Brew Your Own magazine.  A real brick of a book, it comprehensively covers the full cycle of brewing over its 400+ pages.  The features that I think make it a great resource:

  • It’s accessible enough for beginners, yet is unashamed to go right into the meat of the chemistry of what is going on, does not shy away from the intricacies.  Not a coffee-table book.
  • It’s American by origin, yet metric units are fully catered for.
  • Like BYO mag, it’s aimed square at all-grain, rather than fixating on extracts.
  • It’s incredibly cheap (US$15).

I’ve been at it for an evening and a morning and already knocked off 150 pages.  Highly recommended for filling in all those knowledge gaps.  So much of brew-knowledge (especially internet forums) is all entirely conjecture and anecdotal evidence – it’s nice to actually get some information from someone who has studied the science behind the process and actually knows what they’re talking about.

Brewery update

February 2, 2012

More brewing on the go – so no change there.  I’m 19 brews in and all is going well with the setup, with some very reliable results.

One area that did concern me was missing a strike temp a few brews back (#16).  It was a hot brewday (>30C) and all my previous brewing was fairly cold weather.  My target temp was around 64C but things soared well into the seventies.  Very out of character for my setup!  The resulting brew needed some serious gravity corrections and in the process a dry ale ended up tasting more like a Belgian!  As unplanned as it was, it was still rather tasty… 😉

So lately I’ve been using my various temperature probes fitted to the HLT and mash tun to keep a track of water temps as they travel throughout the process.  I’m hoping that this data, combined with ambient air temps, will serve as the basis of a lookup table for future brews.  And so far the results have been good…

I’ve also been toying with the idea of converting my gravity-feed (5-tier!) brew frame into a low profile 2-tier system  by moving to a pump-driven system.  It must be more than just toying because I’ve already got the pump and a welder sitting here ready to go!  It will permit a much lower and smaller brew frame (which also means more stable), a permanent home for the CFC (and the ability to force wort through it at higher pressures than simply gravity – hello hop-backs) and the option of more complex systems (such as a HERMS coil in the HLT).  But I’m really pretty reticent to go at my perfectly functioning frame with a cutting disk.  Time will tell…

Keg Gear

February 2, 2012

Well, I finally took the plunge and have added kegs to the brewing arsenal.  Thanks to Santa and some post-festive spending I now have a gas cylinder, Micromatic regulator, gas and beer lines, beer gun and two 19L Cornelius kegs.

Certainly kegging isn’t the cheapest thing ever – there’s the startup cost of all the gear.  But in the grand scheme of things it’s not too dear – kegs were $60 each, reg for $70, beer gun for $70 and another $40 or so for lines and disconnects.  The expense that normally makes people go weak at the knees is the cylinder.  Buy it yourself and it will set you back $300!  And that doesn’t include gas.  But I found a better, unbeatable option…

Stargas do rental for $60pa and refills for $20.  That means that you’d have to own for 5 whole years before coming close – and all that time you haven’t had the money sitting in your pocket.  It’s a swap service so you never have to be responsible for the condition of your cylinder and periodic testing/certification.  The guy delivers to your door same day – which means that not only are the refills CHEAPER than owning your own, but you don’t have to drive anywhere to get them!  Really, this deal is killer.

Cleaning kegs is so much better than bottling.  You leave the empty keg gassed up and dirty until you want to use it, then give it a rinse out and dose it with starsan and it’s ready to go again.  Kegging also gives you far better control over carbonation than an in-bottle secondary ferment.  And you don’t have to wait two weeks for it to happen.  I took Dave’s advice and bought threaded disconnects (instead of barbs) and threw on some John Guest press-fit fittings.  Now to carb I can easily swap my disconnects to put gas through the dip tube and give it a good shake – instant carbing!

But best of all is simply the luxury of having draught beer on tap at home!  But I can see two kegs will soon have to become four…  Cheers!