Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Continuing Quest for Cask Sundries

This is perhaps a bit of a mundane topic, but essential to the running of a real ale brewery is a steady and reliable supply of sundries. That's such a great word - sundries. When used in conjunction with the word "notions", it conjures up imagery of the sorts of shops at the mall that the ladies drift off into while we gents take the straight and narrow to Radio Shack to buy batteries. But prefix it with the word "cask" and we're off into important, yea even critical, territory.

I had written way way back about my difficulties in finding a source for shives. My existing, and diminishing, collection was brought over in a backpack via airplane by Woolpack Dave in December. Now that that bucketful is 3/4 gone, it came down to either a) calling up Dave while he's in the kitchen in his multi-colored chef's trousers wielding a sharp knife, or b) once again trying to get a warm body on the end of the telephone at Plastic Kegs America. With images of sharp knife in mind, I called Plastic Kegs America and got AN ACTUAL RESPONSE. The nice young lady at the other end of Ma Bell sounded a trifle nervous about having to answer questions and take my order, but we got it sorted out that indeed they did now carry shives for CypherCo firkins and that I would be permitted to order some. She wanted to make REAL SURE that I was ordering the big things, not the little things, as she said that many customers get them confused. I assured her that, after brewing 37 batches of real ale in this country, I had a firm grip on the differences between shives and keystones, and that I wanted the big things.

I brew 2 UK BBL per batch, which is 8 firkins, hence 8 shives, keystones and hard spiles in disposable sundries. I can get the keystones and spiles easily enough from UK Brewing Supplies, but for some reason the 52.3 mm shives that work best with the CypherCo firkins are scarce or unavailable. The shives I ordered will cost me $0.55 each, with no volume discount (odd). With shipping, I'm paying $70 for 100. I was told that there would be a 2.5% surcharge for using my debit card over the phone, but that I would be permitted to send a check in advance. This is America - who does that?!

For the record, I had also been courting F.H. Steinbart in Portland for shives, since they had informed me that they could get anything. Anything, I tell you, anything. Given a couple phone calls, and even stopping in twice while in Portland, I remain unable to get any response. Sigh. Such seems to be standard for us small backwater breweries (or shed breweries - a term I've recently seen pop up on some British blogs). I suppose if I were a Full Sail or a Bridgeport I'd get somewhere, but I'll never know.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Compression in the Rear Cylinder

It was Sunday afternoon, and I had intended to complete at least one of the many blog entries that I had started and left unfinished. I didn't want anyone to miss out on the tragic tale of the two malfunctioning thermometers, or my commentary on good customer relations, or the satire on pub closings. Nevertheless, I had dealt with a loose head bolt in the real cylinder of Fair Chromio a couple of weeks ago, one which caused a burnt-out head gasket. Repairs having been successfully completed, I remain steadfast in my attempts to "run it through its paces" to determine if aforementioned recalcitrant bolt should rapidly wiggle its way loose, or alternatively (and for the better) make it through another leak-free year of American engineering. No blogging this day.

A trip to Bend was calculated to be just the thing for it. Via the Cascade Lakes Oregon Scenic Byway. 110 miles one way. This is a truly stunning ride, especially the part that winds between South Sister and Mount Bachelor. By the time I made it that far I settled on the knowledge that compression in the real cylinder, or any for that matter, is a Good Thing (tm). Whilst traveling, and to kill the proverbial bird with the celebrated solitary stone, I though checking to see if the cask offerings at Deschutes in Bend were as good as the ones mentioned in Portland.

It was broken, I was told. No handpull. I though there used to be two pumps, but didn't argue the point. The parts, difficult to acquire, were being sought after in some remote island off the coast of France. I had to opt for "regular beer". First choice was the Jubelale in July. Remarkably delicious. This is their traditional winter brew, but was trotted out in July for some reason.

What's a trip to Bend without stopping by the Bend Brewing Company; it's only the walk of a couple blocks. The Outback Old Ale was the choice, as I wanted something bitter without all the hop finish. No comments on this pint here - after all this is not a beer review blog, it's about motorcycles.

To further test the performance of the rear cylinder, and to clean out the carb, I then motored over Santiam with the intent of riding the Aufderheide back to Oakridge for some proper (and free) real ale, but decided that the scenario of encountering a large, mobile piece of meat around 10:00 PM near Constitution Grove in the pitch dark at 70 MPH was less desirable than going all the way down to Eugene and coming up 58. Which I did. I tried to stop at High Street, my Eugene local, but failed to acquire a pint after waiting 30 minutes. It didn't appear like they were busy, as they said they were, but I got tired of just sitting and browsing The Internets on my iPhone and decided just to give it a miss and head up the mountain.

Back at the Local 180, I have to say that this new batch (#9) of Union Dew is outstanding. You should try a pint.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Beer

Wednesday morning at the Trailhead - the weekly hide-in-a-corner and think moment. I've just read, as is my wont, a number of British pub and beer blogs, many of which were heading down the slippery slope of increasing antagonism. So, I thought I'd write about something positive.

Free beer.

Yep. Legend and lore has it that "there's no such thing", but this past weekend was the first-of-the-season Mountain Bike Oregon event in our little ex-logging, ex-mining, ex-railroad, ex-tourism town up in the sunny Oregon Cascades, and such a thing there was. As sponsors, the Brewers Union and three other local breweries, Oakshire, Ninkasi and Block15, gave away copious amounts of liquid bounty. The cyclists, around 300 of them, were mostly encamped out at the Greenwaters Park, where a beer garden was set up in front of the amphitheater. I chose not to provide my wares at the park, as all my regular bar staff was involved with the event and, as such, I couldn't get away to set up and operate portable stillage. My solution was to give away pints of whatever was on the handpulls concurrent with the opening hours of the beer garden at the park. My solution to the lack of staffing was to work the bar from Thursday night at 6 PM to Saturday night at 11:30 PM, with the periodic, helpful assistance of my friend Dave . This is not a recommended method of recovery for plantar fasciitis.

Free beer: Friday and Saturday, 4 to 10. Most of us have recovered by now. The corpses in the picture were not all given away; I'm guessing we sold around half of them, especially on Thursday when we had our highest grossing night since we opened around 11 months ago.

The saddest part of Saturday night was cleaning up all the partially consumed pint glasses after the doors were heaved shut at 11:30. For the second MBO event in August I'm considering bringing out several cases of half pint glassware, instead of drawing full pints. I also have a lot of brewing to do in the next month. I tucked away a special bitter into FV1 yesterday, and will be cleaning the copper out and brewing again tomorrow. Maybe. Alternatively I could rest my sore feet and tuck into a good book.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"I don't want anything hoppy."

As much as I like the occasional hoppy pint, it's really nice to hear customers looking for something different. I had several customers in here tonight choosing either the mild or the bitter I had on the pumps for the simple reasons that a) they wanted something light in alcohol, b) not a little of bittering or hop aroma, and c) the temperature and mouthfeel of real ale.

On the other hand, the keg of the Eel River IPA from Northern California (ABV 7.0%) is very nice and has been selling briskly. I've been quite delighted with it, as the brewer has chosen to provide more of a malty characteristic to (here's that word again) balance out the bittering and aroma. Depending on how late I'm here tonight, I might just pour myself a (gasp) half to close out the evening, but I'm still tugging away on a bitter at the moment while I catch up on my bookkeeping.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

If It Ain't Broke...

... fix it 'til it is.

Things keep breaking with gusto. This past week it was an outlet near the ceiling that fried. This was old circuitry installed by the former denizens of the building, who had intended to use them to proudly power Oregon Lottery Machines. I was home at the time, trying to get a few things done such as fix my motorcycle and take a 20 minute nap. When informed via telephone that the breaker was off and the circuit was safe for the time-being, I opted to just stay home and fix the thing in the morning. The nagging feeling that something important was also on that circuit was fortified in the morning when it was discovered that the sandwich prep table, chock full of prepared and neatly organized foodstuffs, was refrigerating its contents at 65˚. Fortunately all was not lost - the cheese survived and a few of the veggies. Circuit fixed - table working by opening hour.

Next was the HVAC system in the brewery and kitchen. It had been vigorously pumping ambient air all day without a care for rendering it COOLER, which was the directive from the thermostat. A brave inspection under THE PANEL in the heat pump outside revealed that 240V was getting to the compressor and fan, but neither were functioning within any reasonable tolerance of spec, i.e. they weren't spinning and they smelt a little odd. Being holiday weekend, getting ahold off Phil the HVAC guy was to be difficult. Two days later and the unit is back working. Fortunately the offensive piece of technology was a starter cap, and not the entire unit which would've cost me a tidy bundle.

This means that I can brew again. It looks like it will be another batch, number 9, of Union Dew. Mountain Bike Oregon is a week and a half away and I'm sponsoring free beer, so I need to stock up.

"Whatever" IPA, the first cask, was on this weekend. It is gone now, three days later. It came out a bit cloudy, which was unusual as I have a working finings regimen down these days. It also tasted a little green, but that is the price one pays for being anxious. I will be putting another one on for the weekend, along with the last cask of The Movie Star, a ginger bitter brewed almost a year ago, and the new batch of La'al Rye'un, a light rye mild. It should be a decent weekend with the Cascade Creampuff mountain bike race and a large class reunion going on.