Sunday, January 18, 2009

in search of beer bottles

eventually you need to put the beer you brew in bottles. while the three of us can certainly hold our own when it comes to drinking, consuming five gallons of beer to save the bottles between every time you brew can be a bit challenging. one option to make up the deficit is to buy the empty bottles that the little convenience stores are planning to recycle for about 0.5 yuan, or 7.5 cents, each. however, there's inevitably great confusion while trying to explain that you want to buy empty bottles, and some people will just refuse to sell them to you because the idea of homebrewing is just a bit too mind-blowing for the average beijinger.

the other option is to get them from bars, who mostly don't bother with recycling. first of all it's free. the other plus side with bars is that they use the regular 12 oz bottles we know and love in the states, and not the huge 600 ml bottles you get at the local stores. so last night out in sanlitun durrell and i decided to give it a try. luckily durrell had also brought along a giant red bucket we may use for bottling, so we had somewhere to put the bottles.

it was a little early when we started out, so there weren't many bottles around. the first bar we went into was friendly enough. we asked the bar tender if he had any empties, and he showed us a box with about five or six, and said sure we could take them. but then his buddy at the bar, who may have been the manager, stopped us and asked what we wanted them for. "are you guys going to fight with them?" like we were going to meet the rockets for a choreographed scuffle under the bridge later on. we told him we needed them to bottle our own beer, and they happily let us take them.

we eventually ended up at the tree, a place known for good european-style pizza and a large selection of belgian beer. we parked ourselves at the end of the bar, luckily, we found out later, because that is where the waitresses came to deliver their orders from the tables. we ordered two beers and then asked if the bartender if he had any empties. he gave us ours, we told him we wanted any others that came through, and the stream of love began. he never even asked us why we wanted them, but handed over every single bottle that he poured for the rest of the night (about 50).

the waitresses were a bit more inquisitive, and shrewd. one discovered that we were taking bottles from the bartender and putting them in a giant red bucket next to our bar stools. she then began playfully harassing us, demanding payment for the empties from all the orders she brought to the bar. she eventually let every waitress in the bar know, so we racked up a "tab" of 45 yuan that we owe to the waitresses at the tree the next time we go back there.

soaking the labels off bottles of belgian beer from the tree

Monday, January 12, 2009

brewing notes for first brew (alpha)

Cooked on Sun, 1.11
Total brew time: about 4 hours


3 kg of malt (12 tubs)
3 oz (85 grams) of Cascade Hops (1.5 oz at 0 min, 0.75 oz at 30 min, 0.75 oz at 50 min)


Prep time about 45 min.

Need a big spoon for stirring, preferably carved from an even bigger spoon. Used spatula this time. Worked OK.

Get cleaning solution together during prep, need it when removing cap of water bottle


4:48. Started boil

5:40. Water (about 4/5 of bottle) boiling

~5:54. Finished adding malt, had to wait for it to start boiling again

5:56. Added 42 grams (1 oz) of hops, start 1 hour boil time (smells great!)

Forgot to wait for foaming to start before adding hops, added 1st hops when water + malt reboiled

Went to buy extra water, needed about 2.65 litres, bought 4 litre bottle

Figure out how to dry hop!

Cooling and transfer to fermenter

Tried to add extra water to boiled wort right at end to help with cooling. Added about 2 litres

When cooling manually added cold water to top of bucket, took lid off and stirred (about 1/2 way through cooling time)

Amy cleaning fish bowl in kitchen while this going on, possible contamination!

Forgot to shake up (aerate) water before recombining with wort

Using hand to gauge the temperature probably not sufficient, need to figure out a place to buy a thermometer for possibly a more accurate temperature reading.

Screen filter most effective in 2nd half of transfer to fermenter

Used siphon to aerate wort

2 layers of seran wrap and 2 not very tight rubber bands on top of water bottle

Finished at 8:08 pm

Thursday, January 08, 2009

16 hours in pingyao

though i had no actual vacation days left over the the holidays, i did end up with two four day weekends. our managing director graciously gave us the 26th off. the government gave everybody the 2nd off as well, and my company doesn't truck with most other firms that made people come in to work on sunday the 4th. therefore, i figured i'd head off somewhere to kill some time and get out of beijing. that somewhere was pingyao.

pingyao is a small city in shanxi province, to the southwest of beijing. as far as i know the city formed during the ming dynasty (1400s-1600s), but rose to prominence as a banking capital during the qing (1800s). the place has been preserved well, with complete city walls and several sites of old banking houses, temples, and government offices. an estate nearby was where raise the red lantern was filmed. nowadays, shanxi province is known for its coal industry, an aspect that was fully apparent while we were there: pingyao is the most polluted place i have ever been. it smelled like sitting behind a diesel truck whenever you were outside. beijing seems like montana in comparison.

as a result i'm still not sure how i feel about the place. i had a good enough time, and have conditionally recommended that others go there. but would i go again? definitely not.