Thursday, July 26, 2012

Must be something in the water...

Home-brewing beer is a great hobby, here's an update on some recent transpirin's

Over the past 8 months I've been developing a product designed for homebrewers who were frustrated with their water.  Water chemistry plays a huge part in the final beer, and I was looking for a way to make an easy solution to the question "What's in my water?".  There are MANY issues I won't go into here, but the short story is I came up with a way for homebrewers to guarantee accurate water chemistry by using pre-mixed packets of ions and RO or distilled water.

The product is called BrewEQ.  A simple and cost-effective solution to a complex problem. The REAL question for me was how much of a difference does the 'right' water make? I didn't want to sell a product that doesn't work well, so I decided the best way would be to brew it, and get tangible results.

The Experiment

I decided to brew 2 identical batches of an American IPA, the only difference is that one batch will be brewed with BrewEQ IPA water, and the the other with BrewEQ Stout water.  Both batches were brewed on the same day, bottles and otherwise treated identically.  The result was 2 surprisingly different beers.  But how different? Was the IPA water beer actually better?

To find out, I submitted BOTH beer into the Canadian Amateur Brewing Association's 2012 Competition.  This competition has certified beer judges, and I would get written feedback on the 2 beers, including  scoresheets and notes on each one.

The Results

The 'Stout Water' IPA scored totals of 28/30/28 (28.6 avg) (each beer is judged by 3 different judges), which is in the 'Good' range.  Comments included:

  • 'faint hop aroma'
  • 'need more hops to be true to style'
  • 'surprisingly low hop impact on palate'
  • 'roasted coffee note with lingering bitterness'

The 'IPA Water' IPA scored much higher - 33/33/35 in the first round, and 35/37/33 (34.3 avg) in the second round.  Obviously it did much better in order to proceed to the second round.  So good in fact that it won me a Silver Medal in the very competitive category! Comments included:

Some hardware to go with the hard work.
  • good, clean hop aroma
  • nicely balanced
  • very refreshing, nice clean hop balance
  • very nice malt/hop balance

The Conclusion

So there it it, how much of a difference does the 'right' water make? Quite a bit it turns out.  My personal brewing skill aside, the difference in scores is the key.  An almost 6 point increase is significant.  It is the difference between a Good beer and a Very Good/Excellent beer.   If I had any worries about the effectiveness of BrewEQ, they are definitely put to rest now.

If all else proceeds as planned, BrewEQ should be set for sale this Fall.

If you want more info, you can check out

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Standing Up *Update

Just an update on my standing situation.

I'm 3 weeks in and still standing, so far that's an accomplishment I guess.  Here are my notes to myself:

  • hard to want to stand on Monday morning (earlier summer hours don't help)
  • need better shoes (or anti-fatigue mat)
  • need to raise up keyboard more (done) now it's just above my belt, much more comfortable but a little less stable.
  • added a connection to use the TV as a computer screen.  It's nice but I haven't really wanted to use it for much.  
  • need to find a better place for my chair!
ok so nothing too dramatic.  I sit when I want to, and stand when I can.  I'd say I'm up about 60%  of the day now.  Do I see any weight loss/fitness increase? No, but i'd been sitting for 13 years, I'll update after a decade and let you know if I notice anything.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stand Up if you want to live (past 55)

The other day I was perusing Flipboard (which I often do) and came across an article about sitting.  You can read the guts of the article here, but the short of it was that sitting all day increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and death, by an amazing 54%.  That's not a small number.  The study covered more that 17,000 people over 13 years (also not a small sample size).

In my job I'm seated all day, sometimes for 4-5 hours straight.  I sit in the car and sit when I get home.  About the only time I don't sit during the day is when I take a leak.  After thinking about all this sitting I decided to try and convert/modify my workstation to allow me to work standing up, at least for a portion of the day.
My workstation (the board where the keyboard and mouse are is the standing addition)

So far this setup has worked quite well.  I find my energy level is higher throughout the day, without the dips in the late afternoon.  I also find I focus a bit better on completing tasks.

There are some downsides, for one, my screens are a bit low, so I have to tilt my neck down slightly.  Also I recommend getting an anti-fatigue mat, or good shoes, as your feet will need some extra cushion.   There are some increased health risks with standing ALL day, but I think that applies to construction workers, and those who literally only get to sit when they drive home.

I don't stand all day now, nor do I plan to, but I try to go through the morning without sitting, stand for meetings, etc.  Most of my 'critical listening' has to be done sitting, as my speakers are at that level. It's been great so far and I feel much better at the end of the day.  Having a boss that supports this shift is also a plus. Besides, sitting is for weekends!

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Beer to Try Ep. 2

In the fledgeling series of 'A Beer to Try', I'm trying to suggest beers for those of you who are less familiar with the various varieties of beers and what their tastes involve.  It's an intimidating world, and those who are interested in expanding their horizon past Coors Light are met with a complex world of choice.  Here is my recommendation for this week: An American IPA

India Pale Ales (or IPAs) were traditionally brewed in England for the Royal troops in India, and as such needed a higher level of hops in order to preserve the beer for the long sea voyage.   There are 2 varieties, generally: American and English IPAs. An IPA is an 'aggressively' hopped beer, firmly bitter, and having a nice aroma of hops. American IPAs are generally more hoppy than the English style, with the English having some additional flavours added by the strains of yeast used. Have one with some pizza, or nachos, or even some mild cheese.  IPAs started the beer revolution, and more than any other style symbolize the difference between craft beer and mainstream mass produced beer.

Muskoka Brewery's Mad Tom IPA
Mad Tom - Clean and hoppy, like a white bunny on Easter morning
Mad Tom pours a light golden colour, and the aroma bursts of fresh hops.  In flavour it is bitter, yes, but refreshingly so.  Personally it is to me a perfect example of what an IPA should be.  There are hoppier beers for sure, but this one is very drinkable, and doesn't get overwhelming by the end of the bottle (or six pack).
For the IPA newbie it will definitely be a step away from the ordinary.  Pour it in a glass and enjoy the smell before taking a sip.

One last note on Mad Tom: he's not hard to find.  Available in almost every LCBO in Southern Ontario, and perhaps farther as well.  Pick up a six pack and let me know what you think.

Want to try something more? If Mad Tom is not enough for you, there is another great Ontario IPA available in most LCBO outlets: Flying Monkeys' Smashbomb Atomic IPA.

Like Mad Tom, Smashbomb is an American style IPA, with firm bitterness and a solid (perhaps intimidating) hop punch.  Flying Monkeys loves their hops, and this beer is probably their best showcase for them.  The beer is darker than Mad Tom, more of a burnt orange or caramel colour. There is more of a malt flavour as well, but it's the hops you will notice.  Smashbomb is a bit more extreme on the hop side, but as my brother-in-law said 'it's ruined other beers for me'.  It does try to balance out the bitterness somewhat with some malt sweetness, where Mad Tom just lets the clean hops shine through.
Hooray for Hops!

How do these beers get that aroma and flavour of hops?  It's through a technique called 'dry hopping', where another batch of hops is added to the fermented beer, just before carbonating and bottling it.  (Traditionally, hops are added while boiling and brewing the beer, before fermentation only.)

If you try any of these let me know what you think. It's a big step forward in flavour, so don't feel bad if you don't care for the bitterness, but that hop aroma fueled a revolution - so at least you can say it's a history lesson with 6% ABV.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's not often I flip for something...

Last week I spent some time catching up on my reading list.  Specifically the few blogs I read I had gotten quite far behind.  After spending time reading in from of my computer I looked down to my desk and saw the most interesting little device... "Maybe THIS can help me keep up with all these blogs" I pondered aloud, much to the irritation of my co-workers.  That device: my iPhone.

So I'm an idiot - I hadn't thought of using my phone to read up on my blogs.  I do a quick App Store search for an RSS reader (most blogs provide an RSS feed) and WHAMMO!! I was dramatically underwhelmed at the options.  Either too clunky, ugly or expensive (expensive in this case is anything > $0).

Enter Flipboard

Quite possibly the most beautiful app on the iPhone, both in it's simplicity and design, Flipboard is an information centre where you can flip (literally) through all the info you want.  What info? Anything you choose.  Twitter stream? Check. Facebook? Check. RSS feeds of blogs? Local newspaper sports section? Instagram feed? Check Check Check.  Coupled with my google reader account, I could literally add any updating page to my Flipboard and get my news/info fix in once app.  All in one place.  Check it out:

Other features include Cover story, basically it picks what type of info is popular at the time, either Facebook photos or tweets or blogs or news stories, and bunches them all on the from page for you to flip through.   One of my favourite features is that any tweet or post with a photo or video link is automatically displayed,  thus the pretty flipping you see in the demo.  It's fast too, no waiting for additional data to load.  Plus you can post tweets, FB updates and comments right from Flipboard.

There are a couple of quirks, getting all the pages you want on there took a bit of figuring, also  the updates from Facebook seem to skip a few once in a while (admittedly it's a bug, but I'm not much of a FB guy, so if I miss a post about someone's kid's new PJ's, I'll live). Also you won't be able to put EVERYTHING on there unless you use Google reader, therefore needing a (free) Google account.

All your info in one place, fast, looks great, and well designed layout.  All for the low price of $0.00.  Sorry to be pitching an ad here, but it's really changed the way i use my phone, which is saying something indeed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Brew Year!

Even though it's now mid/late January and most people have already broken their New Year's resolutions, (and those that haven't are probably realizing that it's not going to last) I figured I'd take a second to let you know my own Brew Year's Resolutions - essentially my goals for this upcoming year as far as brewing goes.  Here we go....

  • Sour Beer - I aim to make at least one batch of sour beer this year.  I'm eyeballing a Berlinerweiss, and hopefully soon so it will be ready for the summer barbeque.  For those that don't know, sour beers are fermented (either wholly or in part) with bacteria instead of yeast.  It yields a sourness to the beer, as well as massive depth of flavour.
  • IPA - The more traditional homebrew: I want to brew up a batch of REALLY hoppy pale ale.  I haven't figured exactly what I want yet, but it'll be hoppy for sure.  I've already secured a couple pounds of hops for this beer (Amarillo and Columbus)
  • Solara Brewing - I have a 54L demijohn (two in fact) from my grandfather sitting in my basement, and my goal for them is to fill them with beer, and each year bottle a portion of it, while brewing another batch of the same beer and topping it back up.  The goal is to have essentially 'aged' beer fresh every year, while not having to wait so long to get the last year's batch to age. What beer you ask?.....
  • Westvleteren 12 - I've never had it, (I have tried the 8 however, and it was incredible) but if I am going to brew a beer to drink all year long, THIS would definitely be worthy of my time.  Look up any top 10 list of greatest beers, it's there.  I've come across a group who worked out a recipe quite close to the original, and my goal is to brew this beer for the demijohns.
  • Competitions - Lastly, I'd like to enter at least one of my beers in a competition, big or small.  It just would be nice to get some feedback on how my brewing compares with others.  I'm not in it for the recognition, just to better my beer by knowing how it stacks up against others.
So there it is, hopefully by putting it in print I will be more motivated to make these happen.  If I don't get around to them all I won't be disappointed, just maybe a little thirsty.