Christmas Eve Bottling

I spent a good few hours yesterday finally bottling our first porter. It had been in primary fermentation for almost a month which is longer than I would have liked, but it's a busy time of year and was hard to find time to transfer to secondary. So, I passed on the secondary feeling that most of the fermentation was complete. Our stout was only in primary for three weeks, went straight to the bottle, and turned out well. I think this one will be fine.

Yield: 38 twelve ounce bottles and 4 twenty two ounce bottles.



Christmas Never Came

As has been documented recently, FBB has moved to a new locale and is now settled at "The Villa" in North Park, San Diego, home of nhc and gp. While we took only a short break from the brewing process during our move, we have nothing to show for our most recent efforts in our new location.

The idea was that we'd brew an awesome holiday ale that we'd call Ghost of Christmas Future. This was actually the first beer we ever named when FBB was just a good idea. Unfortunately, after 2 attempts, we have nothing to share.

So what happened? We don't know, but we've got some ideas. A couple nights ago we chatted with Lee, brewmaster at Blind Lady Ale House, who we've blogged about before here. He confirmed our most likely suspicion. In our attempts to make a heavy, hoppy seasonal ale we were overzealous with our boiling hops, creating a beer so bitter it is barely drinkable. Our first attempt, Red Ale III, was bottled but never enjoyed. Our Red Ale IV, a very similar recipe to Red Ale III, remains in secondary. We are unsure if the uncarbed and unpromising taste is worth any more effort.

In short we've got 10 gallons of extremely bitter beer. Perhaps Ghost of Christmas Future is an all too appropriate name.

We move on. Tomorrow we will brew our first porter, hoping for better days. It is unclear when we will venture back into the red ale world. Experience tells me it won't be long.



North Coast Night

North Coast flights at Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights. Red Seal on cask. Great pizza. Friends.

In other FBB news: This week there will be bottling of Red Ale #4 and the brewing of our first Porter. Looking forward to it. -nhc


Brewery Tour

FBB's relocation to "The Villa" in North Park from the Hayes house in University Heights is finally complete and the brewery is in full operation once again (nothing could smell better). A bit of organization and a few new touches to the presentation of our brewing kitchen make for the best room in the house. For those fortunate enough to visit FBB in person we installed a much needed element any proud brewer must utilize to document current libations. It's official; we have a chalk board.




Our first experiment with fruit fermentation has begun with an Apfelwein, a German dry apple cider. As expected, basic components to this beverage include simple ingredients, but the end result is apparently unlike anything available for retail in the states; there is a lack of distinct sweetness compared to the more popular methods of cider making.
We're utilizing a champagne yeast for an extra dry cider which will also boost the ABV. I'm considering this our first moonshine due to our plan to bottle ferment some volume in a few one gallon jugs, the extensive fermentation time (best flavors by 6 months), leaving it in the garage, and the high potential for residual headaches.

Ein taxi bitte


#8 Lonesome Lager

Just taking a moment from moving into our new house (brewery) to finally write a little about our European lager.

The recipe came yet again from Charlie Papazian’s “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” where it was titled “Heinestella Delight.” We only slighted altered the recipe this time by increasing the boiling hops (Perle) and finishing hops (Liberty) each by ½ ounce.

This was a beer that we put into secondary fermentation 15 days after brewing it. Notes only serve you well when you make them and thus I have no idea when we ended up bottling this beer or what the original gravity is because I was careless enough not to jot them down. So, it is anyone’s guess at the ABV (probably around 4%) and how long we ended up fermenting this beer. My memory does serve me fairly well on one point, however, and I recall that this one took a long time to carb up in the bottle. It has only gotten better with age. I am drinking one today, three and a half months after brew day.

It lives up to its namesake (Heineken + Stella Artois = Heinstella) in that it is crisp, clear and refreshing and has the characteristic lager yeast taste. It does not, however, have the slight yet pungent “skunkyness” that many people notice in a Heineken. I like it. I like it a lot and wish we had more of a back stock.

A few of us were chatting briefly at the local watering hole the other night about lagers. It got me thinking. I feel like there will be a movement amongst craft brewers to create interesting and unique tasting lagers. They have gotten a bad rap among beer connoisseurs historically. Strong ales and insanely hoppy IPA’s usually get all the attention and the higher ratings. Lagers may not be as overtly complex as a strong ale, for example, but there is complexity even if subtly so. I liken it to the subtle complexities in music and sometimes those are even more rewarding when discovered and appreciated.

It is time once again to get back into this brewing thing. -nhc


Out of Town

FBB is out of town. We'll be back soon to bottle our third generation Christmas Ale and share about our recent lager and Belgian. --jk


We are so far behind...

Apologies about that.  

Still to come:

-profiles of both our Belgian White and European Lager.

As an update, we are well over 10 days into the fermentation process of Red Ale III.  We are terribly excited about this one as we've attempted to refine our recipe this third go 'round.  Just a few alterations.  Namely, a change to a more bitter hop: centennial.  An increase in malt extract as well as overall increase in amount of hops we are adding during both the boil and at the finish.  It's an exciting process.  -nhc


Looking Back Toward the Future

It is true. August has been a slow month here at FBB. With cabinets of beer that needed to be consumed, a Belgian white that kept on fermenting, and some apprehension about beginning what we hope is a highly successful first seasonal ale, our progress forward slowed.

The good news is we are ready to pick up the pace again. This Friday we are hosting another fiesta at the Hayes House. While this won't be the tasting party many of you have been waiting for, we have decided to crack open some bottles from the archives. Thinking back to our many brews brings back some great memories.

Our Red Ale series has been quite a hit as we tried our own hand at a brewery genre favorite. The Marzen was a pleasant surprise that still ranks in the top three for many, including myself. The Pale Ale was a make-shift half batch that surpassed expectations. And the stout was the strongest and darkest beer we've brewed that seems to get better with time.

Overall these last 4 months have been highly educational and rewarding. We've produced some great beer and some not very great beer. Most of all we've shared these drinks, and many others, with friends. Thanks for the support. -jk


#7 For No One Stout

The tasting notes for this one have been a long time coming. Apologies for the delay.

The goal was to brew a classic Irish style dry stout. Guinness, of course, would be the prototype for this style. "For No One Stout" doesn't have the secret Guinness flavor but it does hold its own in the stout world. Roasted coffee to start, a pleasant bitterness (not hop bitterness), smooth mouthfeel, and a dry finish. Our beer with the highest original gravity yet (1.075), For No One Stout came in at 6.7% ABV. Comparatively, Guinness is 4.1% ABV.

Personally, I think this beer is one of FBB's great successes. I mean, seriously, just look at that beauty. There is little I would change if we were to do this recipe again. The only alteration that comes to mind is that we could probably get it to have an ever smoother taste if we toned down the amount of malt extract we used so that the ABV would be somewhere in the 4-5% range. I'd also be interested in using it as a base recipe to make a coffee or an oatmeal stout at some point. Lots to look forward to. -nhc


Thanks To All

Aside from the sprinklers that went off at 10:45 and the lager that didn't carbonate in time the pot lucke was a great success. We've decided gatherings are best judged not by the hosts or location but by the people in attendance. And judging by the guests last night this get together was among the best we've had.


What is a brewer to do?

Perhaps my German and English roots have given me a one up in the art of brewing beer.  I've been telling myself that all day to stave off the frustration that I cannot get our newly brewed belgian white down to a reasonable temperature to pitch the yeast.  85 + degree San Diego weather is not helping my cause and even after a good nights sleep outside for the carboy she still doesn't give us a reading on our trusty carboy thermometer which tops off at 78 degrees.  What is a brewer to do?  I did put it in the sink and poured our whole ice box around it.  But, to no avail.  

So I sit here discouraged about the situation.  (My coconut curry and English Ale are soothing my woes.)  Maybe one more night camping outside the front door will do it.  Fingers crossed, bottoms up.  -nhc


Pot lucke 7.24

Hayes House is hosting a potluck for all. I looked up the meaning of potluck on wikipedia and it turns out the word used to mean something like "whatever is available at the time." It further states:

"The most common usage was within inns, taverns, and staging posts in the United Kingdom from the 16th century onwards. A wealthy traveller might ask what the hosteller had to offer to eat, and be told 'chicken', or 'beef' etc., and choose it. The poorer traveller might have to do with 'pot luck', a stew of whatever was left over from the fare of the last few days or weeks. Having usually been boiled many times over, it was safe enough, and often tasty, though its nutritional value was often low. Accompanied by starchy foods like bread or potatoes, however, the traveller might go to bed well satisfied."

To sum it up, we would love to host any and all. Bring "whatever you have available" so that we may all be "well satisfied." Show up around 7PM to 1070 Hayes Ave, San Diego, CA 92103. Also, bring your drink preference along with your sustenance.

And to qualify this post for space on our blog, our European Lager (#8) will be 13 days in the bottle by the 24th, which might just be perfect.

See you soon.



#5 Red Ale II

Red Ale II was our first attempt to improve and refine a previous homebrew, Red Ale #1. We feel optimistic but not satisfied.

Red Ale II has been described previously on this blog as:

developing a hoppy finish
lacking complexity
malty sweet (not in a bad way)
good body
pleasant flavor
minimal "homebrew taste"

In its final form some of these are true and some of these are not. II is definitely drinkable and has a pleasant flavor; these descriptors may be more true of this homebrew than any other thus far. It doesn't have much of a hoppy finish, which we have come to appreciate about a good beer. The typical "homebrew taste" referred to above is a difficult to describe lingering that is tasted at the end of each swig (wine drinkers refer to this as "...on the finish"). From experience we have learned that hoppy homebrews can suffocate this homebrew taste, which can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. This homebrew has neither, which for us is somewhat of a feat, allowing the focus to be on the experience as a whole rather than the final impression. It makes for a very drinkable beer; indeed, it makes for a very good beer.

The story isn't all positive though. If it were, what would we improve upon in the third iteration? This beer lacks body. We would like it just a little heavier. We appreciate light beer at FBB, in fact we are bottling a light lager today, but for our flagship Red we would like it to stand up on its own two feet a little more. We don't desire a Rogue-like hoppy finish or Stone-like heavy body, but we do need a little more from this beer. That is what we plan to give it in Red Ale III.


ON THE LABEL: Red Ale II : 12 Fluid Ounces : 355 Milliliters : Brewed and Bottled by Flightless Bird Brewery, San Diego CA : Light Liquid Malt Extract, 80L Crushed Crystal Malt, Cascade Bittering and Aroma Hops, White Labs Liquid American Ale Yeast : A light bodied, malty sweet ale

-#7 For No One Stout (if you're wondering where #6 went, click here)
-Potluck news


The Up and Up

So soon after the unfortunate demise of Half Batch Bitter all things brewing is on the up and up.  

About two weeks ago we brewed a European style lager.  Today I racked it to secondary and siphoned a small amount into a glass for a tasting.  Mmmm, delicious.  It appears that this one will be a winner.  Perhaps another week to two weeks in secondary, then bottle and into the kitchen cabinets it goes.  

Just thought I'd fill you in.  




It is with much sorrow and humility that I announce our first major failure in homebrewing: Half Batch Bitter.

Yes, this was a "left over" batch where we combined some extra malt extracts with 4 different hop varieties to make a half (2.5 gallon) batch. Our attempt was to brew an English Style Bitter. We failed.

The frustrating part is that it has been hard for Jason and me to figure out exactly what the off flavor is. The first word to come to mind for me was astringent. There is definitely a bitterness quality to it that is not the typical hop bitterness. Frankly, it is just plain unpleasant to drink. Down the drain it went.

Perhaps our wort was too concentrated. We did add an absurd amount of hops and the wort ended up looking like a witches brew: boil, toil, and trouble. Definitely trouble.

I tell myself that this is just a minor setback. In reality, I am nervous yet again about our current and upcoming batches. What went wrong? Anyone's guess at this point. It may take us six weeks to find out.

At the end of the day, or rather, the end of 6 months, 7 out of 8 is not so bad. Not too bad at all.



Beer goes camping

The latest brew spent the night outside for cooling purposes. This has been confirmed as true despite the well known affinity between our carboy and Argentinian women.




For No One Stout.

"Your day breaks, your mind aches
You find that all her words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you

She wakes up, she makes up
She takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years."


A Tuesday Bottle and Brew

We are amassing quite the backstock of beer these days. That's what happens when you have one beer carbonating quite slowly (Red Ale II), you brew a mid-cycle half batch (Half Batch Bitter), and another brew sneaks up from behind for bottling (For No One Stout). It all adds up to about 100 amber label-less bottles of beer encroaching on everyday use items in the kitchen cupboards. Yes, a party is in short order.

Yesterday we brewed our eighth beer, a light crisp European lager. If you would have told me we would be on beer #8 by mid-June when the first Red Ale was hitting our lips I wouldn't have believed you, but here we are. This lager falls in the Charlie Papazian category of "if you can't ferment at colder lager temperatures, this lager can be fermented at room temp." So that's what we will do. We have yet to pitch the yeast 24 hours later, as it remains above the required 70-75 degree range needed to create the right environment for the yeast to take. Going back to the Marzen (Beer #2), liquid lager yeast is the only type we have had trouble pitching in the past; that beer required us to pitch a second time using dry yeast. This time we are hoping for a better result.

Coming soon:

-Beer Goes Camping
-Red Ale II Profile
-Potluck Party Details
-Tasting thoughts on Half Batch Bitter and For No One Stout



Decisions, Decisions.

On Sunday I bottled one of our latest beers.  It had been fermenting since May 22 (16 days total).  Perhaps it was a bit soon, but the general recipe we followed stated that you could be drinking this within 2 weeks so I figured 2 weeks fermenting ought to be sufficient. 

The recipe we followed was for an English Bitter.  Essentially that is an English pale ale.  Traditionally English bitters were served draught only and by hand pump.  They were also served at cellar temperature.  Other considerations for this style are the type of water used (obviously the type found in England), the usage of English hops (i.e. fuggles, kent goldings) and English strains of yeast. 

We have been mulling over a few ideas for names for this particular beer.  I am back and forth on whether we should call it a pale ale or a bitter.  We did, after all, make a few substitutions such as bottled San Diego water instead of imported water of the English variety (does that even exist?).   We generously added English fuggle hops but also used some cluster, saaz, and tettnanger.  We stayed true to the style and used an English Ale yeast.  So, can you see my dilemma here?

By the way, this is very un-English in the fact that we used an absurd amount of hops:  3.5 total ounces (for a 2.5 gallon batch!)  That is the equivalent of 7 oz of hops if we had done the full five gallon batch!  Yes, very un-English indeed.

This is what has been on our mind as far as nomenclature:

Half Batch Bitter

Again and Again Ale (will follow with a post about this if it becomes the name)

In Between Bitter

I'll be sure to let you know what we decide. 




BLAH with Lee

Last night Nate and I went out for a brew at Blind Lady Ale House. It's a local spot that I might normally consider a diamond in the rough, but it seems there are a lot of those around here. They serve great beer and great pizza. You can read their story on the BLAH blog. In short the two couples that own the place care about high quality food and beer and have created an atmosphere that allows goers to enjoy both. With a casual feel, care dedicated to even the most minute of details (such as their 0.63L glasses that leave room for the head on a 0.5L pour), reasonable prices, and friendly staff (who offered us pieces of their own after-shift pizza, which we accepted), the ale house will be somewhere we frequent.

Now that we are beyond that lengthy introduction, the real reason for this post. One of the owners is named Lee. He is the resident brewmaster and is responsible for brewing one of the best beers I've ever had, their House Ale, a Belgian. Curious as to when the House Ale would be back after its recent disappearance, I approached Lee and had FFB's first real brewmaster contact. We talked about his history (he started homebrewing at 17, went through the UC Davis "Master Brewer" program, helped start Stone Brewery and worked there for 8 1/2 years, and has been consulting with breweries around the country for the last 3 years). We discussed FFB's homebrew projects (he offered to taste anything we bring in and provide feedback). And of course we discussed the House Ale (Lee will be brewing on site at BLAH in 3 months after which he said the House Ale will show up once more; it may first be seen at The Linkery because they recently begged him for one of his final 3 kegs and he obliged). In short, we had an awesome conversation and I hope we have many more.

If you ever care to join us for a beer at the Ale House, please don't hesitate to ask. Who knows, maybe we'll have another chat with Lee. -jk


Bottled Red Ale II @ 12 days

carbonation: 4/10
a developing hoppy finish
lacking complexity, especially early


malty sweet (not in a bad way)
good body
minimal carbonation
pleasant flavor, minimal "homebrew taste"


Rogue Night

@ Hamilton's in San Diego one saturday night in May.  24 Rogue beers on tap, 2 on cask.  Plenty of inspiration.  The chocolate stout is what I remember best.  -nhc


University Heights and Samuel Beam

Choosing a name for something as unique and timeless as a home brewery is not an easy task. However it also isn't something you "work" at. In our case, the name Flightless Bird comes from two avenues of life important to the three of us.

San Diego is a city of neighborhoods. In our immediate vicinity there are several, going by names such as Hillcrest, North Park, Normal Heights, and our own University Heights. Each has it's own neon illuminated neighborhood sign and flavor, some more unique than others. Our name and logo find their origins in the history of University Heights. In the late 1800's the land where University Heights now sits used to be an ostrich farm. This piece of history lives on and can be
appreciated on neighborhood stone pillars with the silhouette of an ostrich, which we have adapted as the bird you see on our labels and blog. And it probably needn't be mentioned that the ostrich can't fly.

The second piece of our inspiration comes from our love of music. Iron and Wine (Samuel Beam) wrote a song on the album The Shepherd's Dog (2007) called "Flightless Bird, American Mouth." While the meaning of the song is elusive, I gather it to be something about growth and searching, which are themes we find important in our brewing and our lives. The harmonies and falsetto are dynamic and beautiful.

Thus, combining the history of this place with our love of music, the name Flightless Bird was born. -jk


Sanitation is Key

Recent Reflections

It happens to me every so often with music.  I feel like I've exhausted my itunes library.  Despite the few thousand songs in it, nothing feels fresh and new.  I begin to wonder if music will really progress any further.  Will any new bands come on the scene that don't differ much from the hundreds already in existence in the same genre?  Now that it has happened to me a number of times I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Take Bon Iver for example.  The chords have all been used before, maybe a hundred zillion times in the exact same progression.  However, Justin Vernon's airy, falsetto, northwoods Wisconsin voice has never before layered on top of them. This is different enough that it is, in fact, delightfully unfamiliar.  It stays with you throughout the day, still lingering as your head hits the pillow and you turn in for the night.  I enjoy that.  It is just what I need sometimes. 

Lately I've felt like I've hit one of these stalemates with beer.  I love a bold amber or a hoppy IPA as much as anyone.  I've tried dozens by now.  I'm beginning to lose my sense of being able to distinguish one from the other.  Sure, I can tell you if I think one is far inferior than another, but give me two, quality made ambers and a week later all I could tell you is that I liked it.  Rogue American Amber or Deschutes Red Cone?  Both were delicious is what I'd say. 

It seems that California, perhaps all of the west coast, is infatuated with IPA's.  Today I stopped by a small, local grocer in Ocean Beach that carries a fine selection of craft beers and belgian ales.  An entire fridge was full of 22 oz bombers of different IPA's or Double IPA's.  I decided not to bark up that tree.  I imagine that if I did, however, and grabbed a couple to try, I would scarcely find much variety.  Hops are an overwhelming flavor.  You've got to keep the reigns tight on those guys, lest they get away and overpower a beer.

So today I decided to venture out.  Right there in the store I made up my mind to explore what left I have to explore.  I'm no Magellan.  He sailed around the world.  Today my ship only made it to Maui where it docked and found Maui Brewing Company's Coconut Porter.  It's a robust porter brewed with six varieties of malted barley, hops, and hand-toasted coconut.  I enjoyed it.  It was just what I needed.  -nhc




Branding Iron

I wandered the scrap metal piles in the recycle yard at Freds in The Dalles, OR looking for some flatbar for FBB's branding iron. One could get lost daydreaming of the endless creations to be made from all this cool stuff, but my nursing experience and accident prone nature told me to keep my visit to tetanus playground brief. Back at the shop the metal bending began and welding followed. Like most projects without plans I found myself looking at a finished product twice the size than expected. TSA couldn't help themselves looking in my checked luggage on the flight back to SD; however, something tells me I would have never made it past security with the medieval looking weapon had I carried it on.
Look for the official FBB brand on our crates. ~gp

#4 Pale Ale

This particular beer is of humble origins; a half batch from leftover hops. The aromatic hop was chosen by olfactory discernment. Our chosen hop went in at semi-precise weight/volume conversion due to lack of scale. Time past and it was bottled one day while I slept. Come May 11: Pale Ale and party favorite, flavorful and smooth finish. Peer consensus: a legit brew. I secretly call this the arrogant bastard... but only secretly since the name is taken. ~gp


The First Bottling

#3 Kolsch

Hoping to be ready for the arrival of summer with a lighter bodied, refreshing beer, we at Flightless Bird decided to try our hand at a Kolsch. Cologne, Germany is the home of this specialty German beer that many describe as a cross between an ale and a lager. It looks, and has similar tastes as a lager, but is top fermented like an ale.

My inclination to have this be our next brew came from memories of one summer when I was still an infant in the beer world. I happened upon Goose Island's Summertime, a kolsch. Nothing had tasted that good to me yet, especially with a juicy bratwurst in one hand, and a Summertime in the other.

Our very own kolsch didn't exactly turn out the way my memory would have liked. First and foremost, it was opaque; a sort of faded straw color with a slight orange hue. Kolschs are straw color and crystal clear. The hop head in me found it a bit lacking in that department as well. We also tried something new for us; substituting some of the malt extract in the recipe for dextrose (corn sugar). This is done to increase the alcohol content of the beer. We think it worked. Although the brewmasters out there say that adding dextrose will not add any sweet flavor to your beer, I still felt there was a bit of sweet bite to it. Perhaps we have not let it bottle condition long enough to let the yeast fully convert all of the sugar. Anyways, it was an experiment we tried on our fourth beer as well, but will probably not attempt again. I know, I haven't described much of the taste yet, but it has been over five days since I've had one. You'll probably have to catch me some other time for that. Apparently it didn't leave much of an impression. All in all, not a failed batch by any means. I've enjoyed drinking it and think it will only get better as it ages a few more weeks or months. Time will tell. -nhc


#2 Rhinelander Marzen

This lager, typically brewed in March and served at the famed German Oktoberfest, was a surprise. Lagers are typically brewed at cool temperatures requiring refrigeration, which we are currently unable to accommodate, however with the help of our brewers guide, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, by Charlie Papazian, we fermented this lager at room temperatures like we would an ale. It turned out to be a great dessert pairing, while not being too sweet at the same time. It has a nice balance of complex flavors without the home brew taste we experienced with our first. It was also our first and only to date attempt at secondary fermentation, yielding 4 gallons instead of the full batch 5. Needless to say we were a bit disappointed there wasn't more. --jk

#1 Red Ale

Our first attempt at greatness, this kit beer came out better than we hoped. With a yeasty finish we knew we could do better-it tasted like a home brew and several friends told us so. It lacked body and hops, but for our first attempt it put a smile on our face. And there is no denying that it was the beer that began our obsession. --jk