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Just a reminder, I’m now putting all of my blog posts about things other than running over at “Slow Happy Living.” If you haven’t yet followed me over there, here is a taste of what you are missing…


Slow Happy Living

It seemed the day would never come, but we tasted our first homebrew on October 5! This was 23 days after we thought we’d set the place on fire while attempting to boil our wort on September 12. We racked our proto amber ale to the secondary fermenter on September 19 and bottled on the 26th.

As befitted the momentous occasion of bottling, I took a lot of photos.

The first step of the process was to thoroughly clean and then sanitize 48 used beer bottles. Well, even before that we had to (1) consume all that beer and (2) find room to store all those empty beer bottles. Suffice it to say that we have been preparing for our homebrewing operation for a while, quietly in the background of our busy lives.

CFL has done most of the reading about and researching of homebrewing techniques, and has developed an appreciation for the…

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Slow Happy Brewing: The adventure begins!

Yesterday was Brew Day! My friend and I began the process with great excitement. We’d already pre-sanitized all the containers and instruments the day before. We’d received and reviewed the water quality report from the company that bottled the water we planned to use. We’d gathered everything we needed and arranged things next to the stove in the daylight basement room formerly known as my home office.

My home’s previous owner had used this room as a mother-in-law apartment — that’s why there is a stove and a sink there. The stove, however, had not been used in several years. It was last turned on by the home inspector when Kurt and I bought the house five years ago.

My friend and I turned on two of the burners and they heated up just fine. With a small sigh of relief, we began heating water in a giant brew kettle. We also began gently heating our bottle of malt extract so it would pour easily when the time came to add it to the brew kettle.

Into the brew kettle we put one pound of lovely, aromatic ground Crystal barley malt, and the room filled with a luscious malty odor. We turned up the heat on the brew kettle.

Suddenly I noticed smoke rising from around the edges of the stove where it meets the countertop. Within seconds the entire stove top was smoking!

My friend shouted, “Call 911!” I sort of froze. I’m terrified of fire, but I didn’t want to call in a false alarm. My friend then turned off the burners, grabbed the brew kettle, and ran upstairs with it, yelling, “I’ll take care of the beer! Now you call 911!”

So I called 911. The smoke was already dissipating but it was pretty hazy and smelly in the room. The dispatcher calmly asked me questions and then asserted that it was, indeed, a good idea to send out the fire department.

Meanwhile my friend had situated the beer on the kitchen stove and come back downstairs to turn off the breaker. He greeted the two firefighters and showed them to the office, which of course looked like a chemistry lab with all the brewing paraphernalia. It smelled like a chemistry experiment gone waaaay bad.

Using their nifty infrared heat detector, the firefighters determined that the area to the left of the stove had heated up quite a bit, but there was no sign of combustion. They concluded that old grease and dirt under the burners had simply started to smoke, but they also believed that the stove had probably been installed with too little clearance on the left side. They advised me to have someone pull it out and inspect it before using it again.

I am not touching that stove ever again!!! I think I will pull it out forever and install shelving or something in its place.

Meanwhile, upstairs, the 1.5 gallons of water in the brew kettle was heating on the kitchen stove. We bid farewell to the friendly, helpful firefighters  and went upstairs to wait for it to boil.

While waiting for the boil, I read the instructions on the yeast packet. I learned that once the yeast is activated by breaking an inner packet and shaking vigorously, it needs to grow for three hours before being added to our proto-beer. Oops! We were only supposed to boil for 60 minutes. How were we going to stall for another two hours?

Well, we waited… and waited… for the water to boil. My kitchen stove doesn’t seem to be that hot, even at the highest possible setting.

Finally we had something resembling a boil, so in went the 7 pounds of light malt extract and the first of our hops. Now we had a “wort” (that’s what a batch of boiling beer ingredients is called). I started the timers on my iPad brewing app.

Every 20 minutes or so, a timer would go off and we’d add more hops. They are lovely dried flowers that smell wonderful.

Without a kitchen scale, we could only eyeball our measurements, but all of the hops went into the kettle eventually.

I continued to monitor the timers on my brewing app.

At last the 60 minutes were up! Now my friend had to carry the hot brew kettle downstairs to the laundry room, where an ice bath awaited. The idea is to cool the boiling wort as quickly as possible down to 70 degrees. We would then add the yeast, which had been foaming away in its packet for nearly two hours at this point.

We didn’t have enough ice. We couldn’t get the danged kettle cooled below about 90 degrees. Finally it occurred to me that since we were going to add 3.75 gallons of cold water (we’d stashed the bottles in the refrigerator) maybe those 3.75 gallons would take us down to 70 degrees.

With great excitement we poured the 3.75 gallons into the glass carboy. We then poured the contents of the brew kettle (running the wort through a strainer to catch all the hops residue) into the carboy.

This brought the temperature of the wort down to 62 degrees.

Gnashing our teeth, we ran around collecting hair dryers and dish towels. I bathed the carboy with dish towels soaked in hot water while my friend aimed two hair dryers at it. By this point we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so we laughed!

Finally we hit the magic 70 degrees. With a mighty flourish, my friend popped open the yeast packet and poured the contents into the carboy. Just over three hours had passed since we’d started the yeast and wondered how we’d ever kill all that time.

Nothing happened.

Several hours later, the liquid in the carboy still looked completely inert.

But this is what I saw this morning!

Beer is happening! Billions of yeast cells are doing their thing, feeding on the sugars in the wort and converting them to alcohol! Yippee!

A week from now we’ll siphon into another carboy for a secondary fermentation cycle, and then in another week we’ll bottle. Our beer should be ready to drink by the first week in October… right around my birthday. It may not be world-class beer, but it will be memorable.

If Slow Happy Runner is an apt moniker for myself, then surely Slow Happy Brewing is the right name for our microbrewery. We stumbled and backtracked and called 911 and laughed our way through an exhausting half day’s work, but we’re very, very optimistic about the outcome.

I’ll keep you posted. But now I think I’ll go for a run.

What’s brewing in Slow Happy Runner Land?

All of a sudden, lots of things are brewing and bubbling and simmering, or about to do so.

Remember when I told you about the few bits of cabbage that I’d managed to rescue from the slugs and salvage from my garden? Those 2.2 pounds of cabbage now comprise about 25% of the sauerkraut that is bubbling and brewing on my kitchen counter. I had to go out and buy three large heads of organic cabbage and add them to mine in order to make a worthwhile-sized batch. I’m pleased to report that my cabbage tastes more flavorful than the store-bought stuff anyway.

I’ve never made sauerkraut before, although given my German ancestry it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. I had to buy a large (expensive) crock for this project, so I really hope it turns out well. I’ll need to make many batches of fermented vegetables in the future to fully amortize the cost of that crock!

I started this project a day and a half ago, and it’s now beginning to ferment. I’ll move it to a cooler place in another day or so once the bubbling really gets going. If all goes well, I’ll be eating sauerkraut in a month.

Meanwhile I’m getting ready for a real brewing adventure. Many years ago, back when I was making my own bread and yogurt, I ventured into home brewing. Having lived in Scotland for a while as a student, I’d developed a taste for British ales. But imports were hard to come by, and the craft-brewing craze had not yet taken off in the US. The laws were changing and home brewing was not strictly illegal anymore… so I thought, why not?

Loking back, I realize now that I was quite the pioneer in those days. I managed to find a source for equipment and ingredients, and I brewed (as I recall) three pretty darned good batches of ale. Then somehow, my interests moved on to other things. Meanwhile craft brewing exploded, and it became easier to find really good local ales. When I moved to Washington, I got rid of the brewing equipment that I hadn’t touched in years.

Here in Washington (which happens to be one of the great hop-growing regions of the world) our local craft brewers have gone way, over-the-top overboard with hops. I love hops as much as the next girl, but the really “big” IPAs are not my favorites. Lately, my taste has gone in a mellower, sweeter, less-is-more direction. I’m quite enjoying porters and even the occasional stout.

My friend and I began to experiment with expanding and educating our beer palates. Then a brewing supply store opened right downtown. We went to a brewing club meeting and… you can guess the rest.

After a couple more weeks of research and taste testing, we went back to the brewing supply store and walked out of there with carboys, buckets, a beautiful stainless steel kettle, bottle brushes, tubing, various scientific instruments, and the ingredients for our first batch of beer. We decided to start with a safe choice, just a basic “American amber ale.” For the uninitiated, there is an official list of “beer styles,” each of which is characterized by a distinctive footprint that includes yeast type, brewing procedure, color, bitterness, and of course alcohol content. “American amber ale” is (as you might guess) a reddish ale. It’s hoppy but not overly so. The recipe we chose uses two kinds of barley malt and two kinds of hops… no complex formulas or finicky additives. Basically just boil, cool, ferment, and bottle.

I moved furniture out of my former office to make room for the brewery. It’s an ideal space because there is a stove, a sink, and lots of room to maneuver. It’s downstairs where the temperature is a more or less constant and predictable 65 degrees. I can’t think of a better way to repurpose a home office for post-corporate use.

Tomorrow is brewing day. In three weeks I should be popping the cap off my first bottle of Slow Happy Brew.

Now I’m reading about sourdough starter. I did that, too, a long time ago. I think I’ll try making sourdough bread again!

So besides all this sudden culinary activity, what else is brewing?

I’m in the final countdown until my two half marathons, on September 23 and October 7. I’m still trying to think of the first one as “the last long training run” for the second one, but I’m sure that come race #1 day I’ll be out there pushing it just a little bit. However, my training runs have been a bit erratic lately, so I really don’t know what to expect. If I go out on 9/23 and my knees are happy, I’ll have a great day, maybe even another PR without too much effort (I recently ran 10 miles at a sub-10 minute pace). I honestly think that on a downhill course I will beat my hilly PR 2:16:10 without pushing too hard. But if my knees decide they aren’t happy or if 9/23 happens to be a warm day, that race will be a slog. However, it finishes at a microbrew festival, so I’ll drag myself to the finish if I have to.

The Octber 7 race in Victoria BC is one that I do take seriously. I ran that one last year in the seemingly-impossible-at-the-time time of 2:40:33. I’d love to shave 26 minutes or so (that is, 2 minutes a mile) off that time. It’s doable… if my knees are happy that day. So my top priority between now and 10/7 is to keep those knees happy.

Fortunately, my knees are thriving on hiking, so when I’m not running, I’m hiking. My friend and I did a strenuous uphill hike a couple of weeks ago. Views like these keep me coming back for more:

The past few days there has been a touch of autumn in the air. We did a lower altitude hike hoping to see maple and alder leaves starting to turn, but it’s still too early for that. It was a glorious day, though, and we enjoyed the sun shining through this young stand of red alders and douglas firs:

So, what’s brewing, indeed? Just about everything! Slow Happy Runner Land is bubbling and humming with new and exciting things. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow may bring.

What’s brewing in your world?