Archive > June 2010

Variations on Chocolate Stout

29 June 2010 » In Beer » 4 Comments

As mentioned in the Brewing Résumé post, I once attempted a clone of Dieu du Ciel’s Aphrodisiaque stout, brewed with cocoa and vanilla. While the result was decent, if not very close to the original, it was popular enough that I am now left with only a single bottle of it. Various people have strongly hinted that they would like some more of this beer, so I was obliged to re-brew it.

Chocolate stout split into secondaries

After tasting Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merkin and similar beers, I decided to base the recipe on an oatmeal stout rather than a foreign extra stout as before. Oats are high in beta-glucans, provide a nice body and silkiness, and help with head retention. The recipe was based on the oatmeal stout from Brewing Classic Styles, with a couple of modifications. To avoid doing a cereal mash, I used regular flaked oats instead of old-fashioned, rolled ones. I also baked them in the oven until they turned golden and had a nice toasty smell and flavor. The Victory malt was reduced a bit to avoid saturating the beer with its biscuity taste, and I upped the roasted barley a tad and added a bit of Carafa II Special malt — a dehusked version of normal Carafa — to intensify the aroma and color without adding astringency. A portion of East Kent Goldings hops used for bittering was replaced with Willamette and the EKG was moved 30 min to give a bit of hop flavor.
There are various ways to add chocolate flavor to beer, including raw cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, chocolate syrup, or even just chocolate malt. Cocoa nibs are supposed to give a more integrated taste, but they require the beer to be on them for a couple of months, so I just went with what I used last time with good results — cocoa powder added at the last minute of the boil. Some advocate adding cocoa powder to secondary, and I might try that approach in the future. The vanilla flavor will come from organic vanilla beans. (I picked up 2 Indonesian beans at Whole Foods for the low, low price of $11 #sarcasm.)
San Francisco water is really soft, so I added some baking soda to keep the mash pH from falling too much due to the presence of dark malts.

Vanilla bean in vodka and oak cubes in bourbon

While working on the recipe, I happened upon the Breakfast Stout Riffs post on The Mad Fermentationist blog, which I’ve been reading a lot lately. Mike, the author, brewed an imperial stout and split the batch into different secondary fermenters to experiment with various additional ingredients. I was inspired by his approach, and decided to split my 5-gallon batch as well. The first two variations were easy: 2 gallons would go on top of medium-plus toast American oak cubes soaked in bourbon and some vanilla bean, and 1 gallon would have regular medium toast Hungarian oak cubes and some vanilla as well. After some hard thinking about the third variation, I simply stole the recipe from Mike — a half each of dried ancho and guajillo chile peppers, vanilla bean, and a bit of cinnamon. The final gallon was a complete gamble: sour cherries and dregs from a couple of bottles of Orval (basically adding Brettanomyces and some funky bacteria). I’ve never used fruit or Brett in beer before, so it will be interesting to see how this portion turns out (a few months from now, since Brett works fairly slowly).
I’m going to post a brewing/fermentation log, similar to how The Mad Fermentationist does it, and see if it’s helpful or not. The log will be updated as the beer progresses through fermentation, finishing, and tasting. (Feedback is appreciated.)

Chocolate Stout 

Type: All-grain
Batch Size: 5 gal
Total Grain: 13.88 lbs
Expected OG: 1.060
Expected SRM: 41.7
Expected IBU (Rager): 35.7
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70%
Wort boil time: 90 min
Fermentation Temperature: 68°F

10.0 lbs. Maris Otter 72.1%
1.25 lbs. Flaked Oats 9.0%
0.75 lbs. Chocolate Malt (US) 5.4%
0.63 lbs. Roasted Barley (US) 4.5%
0.50 lbs. Caramel 80L malt (US) 3.6%
0.50 lbs. Victory Malt (US) 3.6%
0.25 lbs. Carafa II Special (Germany) 1.8%

1.3 oz. Willamette [5.0% AA, pellet] @ 60 min.
1.0 oz. East Kent Goldings [5.0% AA, pellet] @ 30 min.

1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
1.00 Servomyces yeast nutrient @ 10 min.
6 oz. Cocoa powder (unsweetened) @ 1 min.

White Labs WLP002 – English Ale

Water Profile
San Francisco tap + 5 g of baking soda to the mash

Mash Schedule
Type: single infusion
Saccharification rest: 60 min. @ 154°F


Brew day, by myself.
Made a 1.5 L starter two days before; good activity.
Decided to add 2 oz of pale chocolate malt and 2 oz of flaked barley for additional body to the grist.
Added 5 grams of baking soda to keep the mash pH from falling too far. Batch sparged in 2 steps. Collected 7.4 gal of wort at 1.055.
Extended pre-hops boil time by 10 min. to allow for more evaporation.
Wort chiller tubing broke after 10 min spraying a tad of water into the wort. Replaced the tubing. Chilled to 70°F, ended up with 5.5 gal of wort. Transferred 5 gal and aerated. Pitched 1 L of the starter after decanting 0.5 L. Fermentation started in about 4 hours.
Active fermentation, temp at 72°F despite using the cooler, so just letting it ferment at room temp.
Really thick yeast cake, this WLP002 yeast is definitely floculant. Gravity down to 1.026.
Gravity down to 1.022. Transferred to secondaries, split 4 ways:

  1. 1 oz medium-plus toast American oak cubes soaked in bourbon for a week + 1 Indonesian vanilla bean (2 gal)
  2. 1/2 oz medium toast Hungarian oak cubes + 1/3 Indonesian vanilla bean (1 gal)
  3. 1/4 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 ancho + 1/2 guajillo + 1/3 Indonesian vanilla bean (1 gal)
  4. 1/2 lb pitted sour cherries

Pitched a small starter made from the dregs of 2 Orval bottles into the cherries portion.
Bottled everything but the funky portion with 3 oz of dextrose. The final volume turned out to be less than 4 gallons, so hopefully it won’t be over-carbonated.
The bottle I used CarbTabs in didn’t carbonate much. Opened a bottle of the American oak variation, and that one carbonated beautifully. Nice foamy mocha-colored head that recedes to thin persisting ring. Good body, those flaked oats definitely help the fullness and smoothness of the mouthfeel. The chocolate and vanilla are present, but subtle, which is nice. The oak tannins help the mouthfeel as well. Overall, pretty enjoyable.
Received 31 averaged score in MoreBeer Forum Competition (33/33/27 individual scores). Entered into 21A category (Spice/Herb/Veg beer). Criticism was that there was too much cocoa flavor and aroma, covering up vanilla and malt. Also, a bit of astringency.

Chrome Not Quite Shiny Yet

27 June 2010 » In Opinion, Tech » 7 Comments

A month ago I decided to stop using Firefox as my main browser, because I was becoming frustrated with its sluggishness and general stability issues. I wanted to give a new, modern browser a chance and Google Chrome seemed like the most fitting choice. I’ve been using it diligently and exclusively since then and wanted to share some good and not so good things that I found out after a month of daily usage. The caveat is that I’ve only used it on the Mac platform, so my findings may differ for Windows/Linux users.

  1. It’s fast and stable. Pages load quite a bit faster, if only perceptually. And while the memory usage is not that much lower than FF’s – after all, those DOM trees and images have to go somewhere – I have never had to force-quit (or even just quit) Chrome the way I had to with FF after a couple of days. This is a big win in my book.
  2. The built-in developer tools are nice, but are not quite as good as Firebug, it seems. I will have to try them out on a project before I can say this with certainty.
  3. There is a lack of integration with 3rd-party tools and websites I used with FF, mainly 1Password and Delicious. Yes, there are Chrome alpha/beta extensions for both, but I miss the full functionality the FF versions offered. Hope the vendors hurry up and bring them up to feature parity.
  4. I miss the quick search engine access that FF has in the upper right corner. That’s how I searched Amazon,, and several other sites. I can’t find an equivalent in Chrome.
  5. There is no way to configure proxy settings through Chrome itself. You have to use a command-line parameter (who does that on a Mac though?), an extension, or do it through OS X’s System Preferences.
  6. It’s from Google. So it’s just what I’ve come to expect from their products – great engine and features combined with some usability problems and a lack of polish.

Overall, I’m pleased with Chrome and will continue using it as my main browser unti something better comes along.
Update: As the comments below indicate, it is possible to configure and use various search engines from the “omnibox”, aka the search bar. Right click and select Edit Search Engines.

Brewing Résumé

04 June 2010 » In Beer » 2 Comments

My first brew

My first brew

I ventured into homebrewing in October 2008, and judging by my brewing logs, I’ve made 16 batches since then, which is somewhat less often than once a month. I’m glad I kept the logs from the very start (using Beer Alchemy), because it allowed me to go back and look at the recipes as well as the notes I kept for each batch.
My first kit was an English-style Best Bitter ale from MoreBeer, and boy was I nervous when reading all the steps to be followed during cleaning, sanitizing, steeping, boiling, cooling, fermenting, and bottling. Being a perfectionist, I didn’t want to screw any of it up, but my good friend Sean Coates — a much more experienced brewer — told me, “Relax, beer wants to be made.” What he meant is that even if I did screw something up, the end result would most likely still be beer. This brings to mind another saying in the homebrewing world that was popularized by Charlie Papazian, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew,” or RDWHAHB.
Well, my first beer turned out to be drinkable and actually pretty good. Encouraged by that success and the approach of the holidays, I bought another kit, a Christmas Ale. Brewed together with Gene X, it also came out well, and so I was off. Over the next few months, I scoured homebrewing boards for advice and recipes, and I brewed everything from Dunkelweizen (Tim‘s favorite) to Rye IPA (Jordan‘s favorite) to a smoked porter (no one’s favorite, but still good). I also migrated from using extract with steeping grains to doing partial mashes.
In March of 2009, I was in Montréal for a PHP conference and was introduced to the local brewing scene by Sean. I especially liked the Dieu du Ciel brewery. The second time we visited it, I tried their Aphrodisiaque stout, and, rumor has it, exclaimed, “This is delicious! I dub it The Panty Peeler, and I’ll have to brew a clone of it.” A few weeks later, I did just that, and while I didn’t quite clone it, the result was immensely popular with the female contingent. 🙂

Fermenting beer

Fermenting beer

Jamil’s Amber-Red Ale was my last partial mash beer, but also my most winning one, since it got 3rd place in the American Amber category at the 2009 Puget Sound Pro-Am competition. After that, I switched to all-grain brewing and haven’t looked back.
My friends Joe, Laura, and a few other local geeks from Michigan, are huge fans of Bell’s Oberon, an American wheat ale. Seeing as Oberon is not available west of the Rockies, I decided to try to clone it as well. The challenge was that Bell’s uses a unique yeast for fermentation, but since they also bottle condition with it, I was able to culture a starter from a single bottle of the beer. With that yeast and a supposedly authentic recipe for Oberon, I made the batch and the result was quite good, if not quite Oberon-like.
My next challenge was Berliner Weiße, an authentic German beer with a sour, refreshing, low-alcohol profile. I wanted to make it with the traditional sour mash technique (instead of using Lactobacillus culture). This involves keeping the mash at 100°F for a couple of days while it sours due to deliberate contamination by bacteria living on the surface of barley. Towards the end, the mash smelled like old gym socks filled with stinky cheese, but it tasted great. After a quick boil and fermentation, I had some really delicious sour beer that would be excellent for summer.
I developed a taste for saisons, so I wanted to try my hand at making one. My version involved a recipe from Brewing Classic Styles, a pinch of spices, and the newly acquired FermWrap heater. Well, my creation was not as dry and spicy as saisons should be, but the aroma and taste were excellent. I entered it in the World Cup of Beer competition as a Belgian Pale Ale, and it scored 34.6 out of 50, lacking just 0.4 points for a 3rd place finish. Better luck next time.
Lacking a refrigeration unit, I hadn’t made lagers yet, but I really enjoy Baltic Porters, so I brewed a batch from BCS again, and asked Brien to ferment it in his temp-controlled freezer. Recently — after a month in the primary, and 10 weeks of lagering — the porter was bottled. Preliminary tasting shows a bit of fusel alcohols, but hopefully that’ll mellow out with some aging.
And finally, my last batch was Hopcode Cache Rye IPA, a recipe from Sean. The name is a play on words. I dry hopped it with Amarillo (one of my favorite hops), and it turned out great, so I entered it into the Alameda County Fair competition. The judging is expected to happen on June 12.
What comes next? Well, that’s a topic for another post. But here’s my brewing résumé so far, in chronological order (recipes in Beer Alchemy format).

Vim for Programmers on Slideshare

02 June 2010 » In PHP, Talks » 6 Comments

A few years ago, I was considering what proposal to submit to the Vancouver PHP Conference. The usual slate of “how to do this and that in PHP” was becoming a bit tired, so I decided to submit a talk about an essential skill that PHP (and other language) developers might need: using the Vim editor.
By that time I knew that I was firmly in the Vim camp (as opposed to Emacs or IDEs). Of course, writing a 45 minute talk about Vim is like trying to explain Mulholland Drive during an elevator ride, but I rose to the challenge and put together the first version of the slide deck. When I later received the feedback about the talk, I realized that it was the most highly rated one of the conference, above even Rasmus‘s perennial PHP keynote. Clearly, I was onto something.
Since then I’ve expanded and adjusted the talk to fit the 45-60 minute slot, but I still usually run out of time due to the wealth of material. So I published the slides on Slideshare and created a Github repo for my time-tested Vim settings and plugins, so feel free to fork it and submit pull requests. And in general, go forth and Vim.