Monday, December 2, 2013

Home Brew Part 4: Fall Brew-ha-ha

     It's been a while since I've posted on my most recent hobby of brewing beer.  My colleague and I started brewing back in March and we were able to knock out about four batches before the summer holidays.  During that time I did some serious research, hitting up several major breweries while we were back in the States, including:  Harpoon (Boston), Victory (Downingtown, PA), Sweetwater and Monday Night Brewing (Atlanta), Port Brewing, Lost Abbey, and Stone (North San Diego, CA).  I read a few crash-course books on brewing to get a better understanding of the process and tricks of the trade.  I also stocked up on some supplies that have been difficult to acquire in Hong Kong.  In short, I wanted to be prepared to bring the pain this Fall with a serious brewing line-up.  In this post I want to recap the four batches that we've produced over the last few months.

The materials, equipment, and literature I brought back - let's just say I had to pay for an extra bag!

     Contestant #1:  Belgian White (Brewferm Tarwebier kit)

This was the third (and final) beer that we made from a canned extract kit.  The two predecessors both proved to be sub-par, so expectations weren't high for this one.  We followed the recipe with the exception of using a dry Hefeweizen yeast rather than going with the nondescript yeast packet included in the kit.  The one major screwup here was that I misread the recipe and added twice the amount of dry malt extract that was required - which could lead to a nice full-bodied brew or it could end up with a foul taste.

     Verdict:  DUMP IT!  Although the yeast allowed the beer to have a nice creamy head that was thicker than our previous beers, the extra DME caused an off-taste that basically made the batch taste cidery.  Reminded me of a "Mr. Beer Kit" experience years ago.  However, I did manage to salvage the beers into a drinkable form by adding a teaspoon of raspberry flavoring to each pint.  The cidery/sour taste can be preferred by some beer drinkers and by balancing with some sweetened raspberry flavor, it was at least drinkable.  Needless to say we didn't share this batch with anyone else.

     Contestant #2:  German Wheat Beer (partial grain / dry malt extract recipe)

I followed a clone recipe for Harpoon's UFO beer, using wheat grain that I brought back from the States.  I'm calling it a German Wheat only because of the yeast and hops that I used, but it is definitely not a hefeweizen that would've required open fermentation.  I'll show you a few steps below to give you an idea of the process.

Working in the Science Department certainly has its perks - a digital balance being one of those.  Here I'm trying to get the proportions right for three different types of grain that will then be placed into steeping bags for the next step. 

Water was brought up to a sub-boiling temperature before adding the grain in these steeping bags.  They sit in here for probably 45 minutes to an hour, releasing their sweet-smelling sugars that makes the apartment smell like a real brewery. 

The steeping bags are removed and dry malt extract is added (wheat in this case) which is even sweeter.  Now the wort is brought to a boil for another hour before adding hops.     

German hop pellets are added to add bitterness to the wort.

Once the wort boils for a couple of hours it's time to cool it down quickly before adding the yeast.  Here I got to bust out my new wort chiller I brought back from a beer store in Atlanta.  It's just a coil of copper tubing that sits in the hot wort and acts as a heat exchanger when cold water from the tap is run through the inside.

This was a game-changer for us since we don't have a large bath-tub or an ice maker or a cold climate that most people use to chill their wort.  We run water through for about 15-20 minutes to get it down enough to add a few ice cubes and pitch the yeast. 

The soaked grain can be used for a lot of baking projects - none of which we have tried, but it certainly smells amazing.

Once the wort is cool enough, we put a sample into the hydrometer to measure the density.  This will be used later to determine the alcohol content of the finished product.  This is also helpful for us following recipes with target "original gravities (OG)" that should be reached for a particular style.  We can add water little by little in order to get there without watering it down too much.

The yeast is pitched on top after being rehydrated with some water.  Now these guys will do their thing for about 10 days before the next step.

This was a small batch (10L) but this is the basic set-up where we will transfer the beer out of the fermenter into a bottling bucket.  This step sort of filters out the sediment at the bottom leftover during fermentation. 

The result is a nice looking beer that is ready to be put into a bottle for a couple of weeks for conditioning. 

     Verdict:  DRINK IT!  This one turned out tasting like a clean wheat beer with nothing incredibly special, but also nothing that left a bad taste in your mouth.  Since this was also the first batch that we used partial grain-steeping and partial extract without the help of a kit, it seemed that in many ways this was our first beer without the training wheels.  That made it taste better than it probably was.

     Contestant #3:  American Wheat (partial grain / partial extract)

This one was practically identical to the previous batch, except that I used an American ale yeast.  I wanted to see how that affected the taste.

     Verdict:  DRINK IT!  This one actually tasted very similar to the first, except that the head wasn't quite as thick.  For fun I put raspberry flavor into part of the batch to make a Raspberry Wheat.  Both received good reviews from my sampling panel.  The raspberry version is definitely one I'd make again.

     Contestant #4:  Porter (partial grain / partial extract)

This was our first attempt at a darker beer.  I wasn't sure if it'd turn out to be a Brown Ale or a Porter, but we ended up with a porter.  You get the darker color when you use grain that has been roasted.   

     Verdict:  DRINK IT!  I was really proud of this one.  It is very different from our previous brews but it is a very nice porter with a slight bitterness and a roasty finish.  It's gotten rave reviews and I'd definitely make this one again.

     So, the Fall has been a busy brewing season.  There's one more batch that's conditioning now, so I'll wait until another post to release the verdict.  It's another porter that will be a bit darker, but will also be sweeter with the addition of cocoa nibs and using hops with less bitterness.  I've also got to share the new set-up in the brewing room.  At this rate, we hope to have some beers to enter in the home brew competition in Hong Kong early next year.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

10,000 Buddhas

     On a random weekend this Fall we had a surprise visit from a couple of friends from GT CCF - Kara and Eddie!  They were passing through on a 2-week trip to China and we were fortunate to be the first stop.  Marisa and I had been planning on doing some new touristy things in Hong Kong this year, so the timing was perfect.  On a beautiful Saturday we hit up the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery as well as the Bruce Lee Exhibit.

     The 10,000 Buddha Monastery is situated in Sha Tin at the top of a small mountain - as most Buddhist sites are.  It's an interesting place with a driveway lined on both sides with uniquely sculpted, golden buddhas.  While we didn't count them up on our way in, we later read that there are actually close to 10,000 buddhas on the premises.  Once you make it up to the top you are rewarded with a nice view, plenty of incense, big statues, and lots of greenery.  If you're looking to spend a day in Kowloon, I think that this place could be coupled with a trip to the Nan Lian gardens since they aren't too far apart.

It takes a little effort to find the pathway, but once you're there…….there's only one way to go. 

Up this crazy long hill.  Don't worry though, there are tons of buddhas to keep you entertained on your pilgrimage.

 Each one is very unique, so it's hard to pick a favorite.  It's interesting, however, that the eyes, eyebrows and lips are all in full color.

The Sound of Music Buddha was probably the most memorable.

Upon arrival at the top you are met with the largest buddha, marvelling at his splendor. 


My birth animal - I missed the year of the Dog by one day! 

Marisa's birth animal - she would prefer just about anything else I think.

     So if the legs need a bit of exercise and it's a nice enough day then I recommend the short hike up to the top of the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Home and Away Football Tournament 2013

     So the Open Mic Night that I mentioned before was part of a fundraising effort for our school staff team that would participate in the "Home and Away Football Tournament".   This is the third annual football tournament that raises funds and awareness of the political refugees and asylum-seekers living in Hong Kong.  Basically all sixteen teams in the tournament pledged to raise money towards the cause and then have a friendly tournament.  The teams came from various corporations such as JP Morgan and Pacific Coffee, to organizations such as the Vine Church, the Diocesan School Old Boys' Association and our staff team.
     The sun was shining through clear skies on the Saturday of the tournament and it stayed that way the entire day.  We literally played soccer from around 10am - 5pm with a lunch break in-between.  It was only 7 v 7, so the fields were small and the games only lasted 20 minutes which was more than enough time for me.  Although we had the disadvantage of having never played together as a team, we managed to finish 3rd in our pool of three teams (lost a tie-breaker for 2nd) and then finished 4th in the "Silver Bracket" - which basically means to me that we finished 12th out of 16 teams.  Regardless, we had a great time and were quite competitive, even in losses.
     The best part about the event was the community that was built within our team since our school is very segregated into different parts of the school.  This was one opportunity for us to share an experience and get to know each other outside of school.

DBS Staff team sporting the shirts I whipped up in less than a week - went with the military "M*A*S*H theme. 

Photo-op with the Old Boys' Associate team (it's like our alumni association) 

Still got it, busting out some of those "All-County" moves. 

Artsy shot of the eventual champion "Vine Africa" - they were fun to watch.

Mr. Jackson is dangerous in the open field - don't let him turn. 

You'd think that we would've won our last match from the looks of this post-game photo. 

DBS Staff bringing home the hardware! 

Yes, they even have a trophy for 12th place!

    With all of our efforts, the event raised over $200,000 HKD (20,000 Euros / $28,000 USD) for the refugees.  A noble effort for a noble cause.  Can't wait to do this again next year!


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Open Mic Night

     A few weeks ago I decided to organize a school staff team to compete in a charity soccer tournament to raise money for political refugees/asylum seekers in Hong Kong.  The tournament was to  be held at our school and I figured it was only right for us to be represented.  Since it is a charity tournament, one of the requirements was for our team to raise as much money as possible to pledge towards the cause.  After spending some time thinking about different ideas I thought back to the "Teacher Talent Show" at East Paulding and the "Entertainment Evening" at ISF Frankurt.  Our current school, DBS, has a rich tradition of holding formal concerts of a very high caliber, but there is no such thing as an informal equivalent for students to step out of their comfort zone and play/perform something in front of a small audience.  It struck me that this is exactly what the school needs and it would double as a good idea for a fundraiser.  I decided to go with the generic "Open Mic Night" title and go from there.

     I assumed that this would be a fairly easy event to organize for a school that is so musically-oriented.  I quickly came to grips with the reality that: 1. there is a lot of red tape to get through in order to hold an event at our school; and 2. borrowing equipment within the school would be a lot more difficult than previously imagined.  This was one of those things that you just keep reminding yourself to give it up to God, everything will work out somehow, and it will be worth it in the end - no matter the means.

     I won't go into all of the details of the emotional rollercoaster leading up to the event, but I will say that it came down to the Thursday before the event on Saturday to reserve sound/light equipment.  After going through several different contacts I finally struck gold with a colleague's spouse who had connections with event management.  We were able to rent the equipment for next-to-nothing and the quality was excellent. 

     Overall, the goal was to have an enjoyable evening that would give students an opportunity to display their talents without the commitment of months of rehearsal and without the pressure of flawless performance.  I think the "open mic" concept is relatively unfamiliar to our students, but those that decided to show up had a great time and quickly picked up the idea.  We had probably around ten performances, sold sausages off of the grill, had a 16-yr old tell his story of life as a refugee in Hong Kong, and were able to raise around $14,000 HKD (1,400 Euro / $2,000 USD) for a noble cause. 
     Below I'll outline a few of the acts from the evening:

I performed a few songs with my colleague, Vlada, who also doubles as my brew partner.  We played: Free Fallin' (Tom Petty, but John Mayer version); Sexy and I Know It (LMFAO); and Somebody I Used to Know (Gotye).  We really didn't have any time to practice with all of the running-around beforehand, but felt surprisingly relaxed and pulled off a respectable set. 

My friend, Matt, played some of his own songs and traded off with Franck from Colombia who also shared a song he wrote.  I'm always impressed with those that can write their own songs. 

Some of our students performed some acapella songs which was a nice change of pace.  I have to point out the full moon shining in the background - that was probably the best part of the night.  It was perfect weather with clear skies and I had no idea that it would turn out that way. 

The success story of the night came when these students overcame all odds when their drum kit that they were going to borrow from the school fell through.  They quickly took a taxi down to Mong Kok, rented one from a studio, and packed it into a taxi to make it back for a later performance.  They covered some songs I didn't know, but it was cool because this was the first time that they'd been able to play in front of any kind of audience.

     The evening was a success and the question I keep getting is........."when's the next open mic going to be?"  Now I've got the next task of trying to acquire funds to acquire equipment to make sure that we can keep doing these in the future!


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mid-Autumn in Macau

     After the whirlwind tour of the U.S. this summer we had a sense of missing some relaxation once we arrived back in Hong Kong.  With a quick glance at our school calendar we saw that there would be a long weekend in September that just might do the trick.  The easiest place to get away for a weekend is the nearby Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Macau.

     We'd only briefly visited Macau last year when we had to leave HK and re-enter in order to activate our work visas.  At that time we literally arrived, took a bus to one of the many casinos, had lunch, then came back on a ferry.  Macau is an interesting area with three main islands: Macau, Taipa, and Coloane.  The history of the area includes heavy influence from the Portuguese so besides the large, modern casinos you also have cobblestone streets with designs, old churches, and plenty of egg tarts - all with a Chinese feel.  This time we went with the quieter area of Coloane down at the southernmost point.

Not Macau, but the reason we had a long weekend was for the Mid-Autumn Festival which takes place on a full moon. Lunar holidays make sense.

We enjoyed a sea-side walk from our hotel down to dinner. 

Lanterns are the big thing for Mid-Autumn festival and these lit the way to our dinner at Fernando's. 

We had a really nice meal at Fernando's which was the one place that everyone agreed on for a recommendation.  They have a nice sangria and I can vouch for the prawns in clam sauce and roasted chicken.

The Portuguese feel is everywhere with tons of these mosaic sidewalk designs.

Like I said, everything with a Chinese influence. 

Marisa and the incense. 

Sniffing out Lord Stow's bakery - famous for egg tarts. 

Lord Stow's workers doing their thing. 

The view from our hotel balcony.  Although I can't recommend the hotel, it had a great location.

Macau proper by night 

After an Italian dinner we walked around and were surprised to come across an international fireworks competition.  Basically two different countries face off each night - this one was from Portugal.

     Although our weekend was cut a bit short due to super typhoon Usagi that was approaching Hong Kong, I think we got what we were looking for.

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