Since a couple of my professors from grad school are going to be in town for the inauguration, it was time to make another batch. Since it's dark beer season, Marco and I made "Danger Knows No Favorites Dunkel" (p.204). We started the batch on Sunday the 21st (so it's also a Solstice Batch), and it's happily bubbling away now. While boiling the wort, we tapped out the keg of "Whitey's Gone Fishin' Pale Ale", which was good to the last.
Substitutions were 2oz of Mt Hood for the boil and Saaz for the flavor and aroma. We went with a #60 crystal malt. The store didn't have German Caraffe Black, so we used regular Black—not sure what the difference really is.
In our constant effort to perfect our technique, we tried something new for the grain. Previously, we've been tying the grain loosely in a cheesecloth bundle. This time we used flour sack. Now, when I picked up the package, I'd assumed it was a sack for storing, say, five pounds of flour in something that would wick away moisture. Apparently, I'm the only one who didn't know that "flour sack" actually means "flour sack cloth." Still, the mesh was finer than cheesecloth while still allowing water to flow through, and the shape was more amenable to tying into a bundle. At 22"x34", it might work better draped over the edge of the pot and clipped in place, especially with a 20qt pot (mine's a 30qt, which is a bit iffier). The truly great thing is that each new idea requires another 5 gallon batch of delicious beer to test.
UPDATED 1/15/09: After two weeks of fermenting, it was time to move the beer out of primary. I'd have prefered a secondary fermentation for at least a few days to let the particulates settle. Unfortunately, due (presumably) to temperature fluctuations the fermenter was at negative pressure, and we'd gotten at least a little suck-back (air only, I think). With fermentation complete, I was guardedly optimistic, and we kegged. After about two weeks, I finally tapped the keg to try it. After discarding the first glass, the second confirms that we have a tasty batch. All the wonderfulness typical of the dunkel is there, and if I don't start throwing up tonight I'll declare this batch fit for sharing with visitors.