Category Archives: Brewing

Sober October

~ by Maria Benner

In 2012 Scott and I spent most of October in McCarthy, housesitting a neighbor’s tiny cabin with two huskies, while building our own log cabin near by.  We decided not to drink that month, because we imbibed a bit too much during the summer at endless parties that happen almost every night in McCarthy during the summer season.  Scott had read somewhere that the human liver can regenerate in one month, so we decided to give our livers a break for 30 days, while working on our cabin, going for walks with the dogs, and watching Netflix after dinner in the cozy dark cabin.  We jokingly started referring to that month as sober October.  Then in 2013 I took a break from drinking again in October, and this year we’re both doing sober October, five years later.  Scott decided to do a semi-sober October, meaning that he can have four drinks total every weekend.  I, on the other hand, haven’t had a drink in 15 days.  So why October?  For us this is the only month without birthdays, anniversaries, summer shenanigans, and major holidays.

This year I realized that many other people are also doing sober October, and turns out that it’s a “thing”, and maybe even a growing movement.  Of course, this is the month that breweries seem to be coming out with their most delicious offerings.  Anchorage Brewing has been releasing a new imperial stout, or hazy IPA almost every four days, while King Street Brewing now has a birch Russian imperial stout on tap, and Turnagain Brewing has a sour rhubarb ale that I would love to try.  Not to mention all the pizza parties, wedding parties and homebrew club meetings that I’ve been going to all month and watching my friends drink verticals of Bigfoot Barleywine and Smoked Porter dating back to 2000, while I sip on my La Croix.  Yes, Alaska has amazing beer, and is a tough place to do sober October, but I hope the benefits are worth the effort.

The most noticeable benefit has been more money in my bank account and a smaller credit card bill.  At the end of this month, I’ll have a pretty good idea about how much I spend on craft beer.  The second benefit is that I’ve lost three pounds so far without changing my workout routine, or altering my diet.  In fact, I’ve noticed that I’ve been eating more sugar lately, as my body craves more carbs.  I’ve been sleeping much better.  I used to wake up several times during the night, and sometimes couldn’t go back to sleep for two hours, before falling into a deep sleep and then waking up groggy.  Now I’m sleeping through the night.  I’ve also read that abstaining from alcohol for a month has a positive effect on blood pressure, insulin levels, and ever risk of cancer!

I’m half way done, and I can’t wait until November 1st when I can enjoy my first cold, refreshing beer!  Will I do this every year?  I don’t think so.  My goal is to cut down my drinking to just weekends, and if I do drink at social occasions during the week, I’ll only have one drink.  Moderation is key.  Which beer will I drink first?  Probably a barrel aged imperial stout.

We bought two cases of La Croix to get us through sober October.

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Small Batch Brewing in a Condo Kitchen

I’m brewing a big batch of beer right now, which is taking up my whole day, but I have a few minutes of down time while the mighty enzymes break down the protein strains and starches from the grain, and turn them into beautiful grain sugars.  I’d like to take this respite from my brew day to talk about small batch brewing.  I have been working on a yeast project for over a year now, keeping a strain of yeast alive by brewing small batches almost every week.  My house yeast strain is a hybrid of a Wyeast Belgian Witbier strain and a yeast I propagated from the bottom of a Trappist Orval bottle.  I blended them together and keep them in a growler. When I told Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing about the project, he told me I created a Solera.  I feed the yeast the day before I need to use it by making a small amount of wort (unfermented beer) and adding it to the yeast growler.  The next day I brew a small batch consisting of six pints of water and about a cup of malt extract.  I don’t even need to boil this stuff for longer than 5 minutes because I don’t want this beer to be bitter, just floral.  I do add lots of hops, but basically no bittering hops for this particular style.  I have experimented using dry malt extract vs the liquid goo you can purchase in bulk at Arctic Brewing Supply.  I found that although the liquid goo is annoying to work with, it is more affordable than doing everything with the dry powder.  You do have to use a little more, and it likes to go everywhere.  I cool down the wort and put it in a gallon glass jug, add about a pint of my yeast slurry and cap it with an airlock.  A week later I dry hop it with about 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of pellet hops.  I have used all kinds of different hop varieties but the one that consistently tastes the best with this yeast is Citra — a very fruity hop in an orange/grapefruit kind of way.  I then let it sit another week before I bottle it, adding 4 charging tablets to each 11 oz bottle.  I get between 5-7  bottles in a  three weeks cycle.  If I brew weekly that makes about a six-pack a week, which is just enough home brew to keep myself stocked and to have a few to share with friends.

I found that it is really fun to experiment this way.  I don’t take too many notes, so this is more like an art project than science.  Dates and hops are about all I record, but I have a really good feel for what this yeast will do and how it will taste after making about 30 batches.  Small batch brewing requires less time but you also get less beer.  I spend about 90 minutes a week to make my six-pack, mostly bottling time and wort chilling.  It is my fun kitchen time, and I enjoy it thoroughly.  The best part is sharing it with friends in 3-4 oz tasters, and comparing the different batches.  Well, I have to attend to my mash so that the West Anchorage ’98 high school reunion has some of my homebrew to drink.  “Peace, Love, Happiness!” That is my brewery’s name, and motto.