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January 4, 2014

A lot of time has passed since I last posted anything to this site. We haven’t given up on brewing. In fact, the opposite is true; we started brewing so much that I couldn’t keep up with this site. We brewed over 35 batches of beer since I last posted ten months ago! I was unable to post a brew-day write-up about each of them, so I sort of gave up altogether. My goal going forward is to journal any brew days that are interesting for any reason – new process, new ingredients, new equipment, experiments, group brew days, that sort of thing. And, more importantly to me, I need to get back into taking detail tasting notes for each batch. This is a good place to post them.

Speaking of new equipment…

Last summer we set out to design and build our ideal brewery – one that we won’t outgrow, one that will last the rest of our days in the hobby. I think I succeeded. Above is a single tier, three vessel, dual pump, 15 gallon HERMS brewery. The core details are:

  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 20 gallon tangential inlet combi-tank (brew/whirlpool kettle)
  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 15 gallon MLT with bottom drain
  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 15 gallon HLT with HERMS coil
  • Blichmann Floor Standing Burners, mounted in…
  • Brew Stand bolted together from strut channel
  • Chugger Pumps
  • Convoluted Counterflow Chiller
  • Control Panel for pumps and HLT burner

I aim to create a complete write-up describing the step-by-step process for brewing on this thing. A video sounds like a decent idea as well. If you have questions about our setup, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll address them in future detailed coverage.

We’ve only brewed on this new system a half dozen times or so, but the process is starting to get dialed in. Will this system make us better brewers? Probably not. But it was fun to build and is even more fun to brew on.

Everyone wants to know what it cost to build. The answer: a lot. You can make great beer on a much simpler, less expensive system. But this is a hobby and you can put as much into your hobby as you want, and for us this was money well spent. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll document my brew day for this site…

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Brew Day: American Amber Ale (Beer #35)

September 2, 2012

As I mentioned in my last post, I was getting back to brewing after six months off with a simple American Amber Ale. This was my first time brewing on my new system – first time brewing outdoors on a propane burner.

Getting to and maintaining a boil is so much easier than on the stove top:

The only ingredient I purchased for this batch was some yeast. I had plenty of hops in the freezer and enough base malt left in my Vittles Vaults from earlier in the year. I didn’t have the right specialty grains to make the same Amber Ale recipe from BCS that won me a Gold in 2011 and a Bronze in 2012, so I adapted the grain bill to create something amber in color:

9 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) US
1 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L
9.2 oz Munich Malt
4.8 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt – 80L
4.0 oz Pale Chocolate Malt (200.0 SRM
2.5 oz Victory Malt (28.0 SRM)
2.0 oz Aromatic Malt (19.0 SRM)

In my estimation, this beer will have less crystal malt character and be a bit more chocolatey than the past recipes. The samples I took for reading SG confirmed this. I added 10g each of Cascade & Centennial hops as fermentation was finishing up. They were in there for about a week before I began crash-cooling on Friday night. Tomorrow morning I am going to keg the beer and rinse the yeast for use in two beers I’ll be brewing tomorrow.

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Gear: Stir Plate Build

January 4, 2012
To make good beer consistently, one needs to have control over every controllable part of the process. I have been making yeast starters for every batch for a while now, but I didn’t have the best control over them. My process was to visit Jamil’s Yeast Pitching Rate Calculator, put in my OG, yeast manufacture date, set the starter type to “Intermittent Shaking,” and let it tell me how much starter wort to make. I’d combine the wort and the yeast in a gallon growler with foil over the lid and give it a swirl every time I walked by. This is a pretty good way to make a starter, but it’s not completely predictable and you can’t get perfectly repeatable results doing it this way. To achieve true consistency – or as close as you can really get – you need a stir plate.Commercial stir plates are expensive – ranging into the hundreds of dollars for the size I would need. Luckily homebrewers figured out long ago how to make one from some scavenged computer parts and a few items from Radio Shack.

I more or less followed the plans put forth by some guy named Dan in Michigan. (Thanks, Dan!) I tried to follow the stirstarter.com instructions verbatim but it didn’t work well for me with my power supply and the parts I picked up. In the end I just went with a simple switch, potentiometer, and the fan.

The pot might burn out after some time because it’s not meant to run at full resistance non-stop. If it does, I’ll revisit the LM314 voltage regulator and see if I can get it to work. For now, though, it’s working great. Check out the whirlpool:

I have used the stir plate to make one starter so far: a 2L starter for a batch of 1.075 Foreign Extra Stout. My starters used to take about 48-60 hours to finish fermenting. On the stir plate it was done in 24 hours. More importantly, I was able to make a 2L starter whereas before I would have needed 3.33 liters! The stir plate will save me money in the long run, because starter wort isn’t cheap to make due to the high price of DME.

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DIY Carbonator Caps

September 25, 2011

A side benefit of having a kegging setup is the ability to fill plastic bottles from the keg to take with you. And if you have Carbonator Caps, you can top the bottle off with CO2 to keep it well-carbonated. Even better, if the beer is not yet fully carbonated, you can use the Carbonator Cap to quickly force-carbonate the beer in minutes. To do this, you just blast the bottle with 30 psi, shake until the bottle becomes soft to squeeze, pressurize, shake, pressurize, etc. until the bottle stays firm after a good shaking.

Carbonator Caps are great, but they are expensive. At $20 each, having enough to take a few bottles with you really adds up quickly. That’s where the DIY Carbonator Cap comes in. I can’t take credit for inventing this. I merely copied something I found online. I’d link to the original source, but I’m not sure who or where that is.

Making a DIY Carbonator Cap is very easy. You need the cap from a 1 liter bottle, an automotive tire valve stem, a drill with a 3/8″ spade bit, and a 9/16″ wrench. Start by drilling a 3/8″ hole in the center of the bottle cap. Then just put the pieces together in the order shown in the picture above. Tighten the 9/16″ nut snugly. Don’t over-tighten. And that’s it.

To use the DIY Carbonator Cap, simply attach an air line tire chuck to your CO2 source and use it to fill the bottle with gas, just as you would to fill your car or bike tire with air. With the right NPT to 1/4″ MFL adapter, you can even thread the tire chuck into the MFL quick disconnects that you likely aready have attached to your gas-in disconnects on your kegs.

One advantage the commercial Carbonator Caps offer is that they allow you to attach your ball lock disconnects directly to the bottle without having to attach a tire chuck. That is a nice feature, but is it worth nearly eight times the cost of the DIY cap? Not to me.

A note about the valve stems: I used the chrome ones. I got them from Amazon where a pack of four cost $6.99. They have them at the auto parts store, but they’re significantly more expensive there. There are also rubber ones that you could buy. I have read that the rubber ones could cause your beer to smell or taste like rubber, so I went with the chrome ones. I haven’t confirmed that the rubber ones impart smells, so it might be worth investigating if you want to save even more money.

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Gear: New Pint Glasses

September 20, 2011

I just finished racking the Schwarzbier into a keg so it can start lagering. Now, to figure out what to do about the Sauvignon Blanc that hasn’t started fermenting yet. But first, check this out…

The new pint glasses I ordered a while back arrived today. Behold their majesty!

I don’t often buy glassware. In fact, the only beer glasses we ever bought are the #include <beer.h> ones Jess got for me way back when. All of our others are freebies or door prizes. The streak of only collecting free glasses ended when this deal popped up on Homebrew Finds – $18 for twelve of these glasses. (It came to about $25 with shipping, so about $2/glass.) Usually these glasses sell for about $9 each, so I was happy with this find. Yeah, I’d never pay $9 for a beer glass, but $2? Definitely. Especially one that’s so well hyped renowned.

I have to say, I wasn’t sure if the glasses would actually get here, and if they did, if they’d be intact. They came from some bargain basement web store and they were shipped via some package company I never heard of. And when they arrived, this is all the packaging they had:

But they all made it here without breaking. For that I am glad.

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Gear: Keezer Build

September 17, 2011

Our keezer is up an running! A “keezer” is a kegerator made from a freezer. I think the term originated in this thread on HomeBrewTalk.

I wanted to build one of these things for a long time, but it’s a substantial investment in both time and money. But then Jess bought me a single keg, CO2 tank, and picnic tap for my birthday. I think she was tired of hearing me bitch about bottling beer. Her gift was a sign that it was time to take the plunge and go all in. I saw the chest freezer that will hold 5 corny kegs on sale at hhgreggrrhghhehhreeggg. I ordered all my kegging parts from Keg Connection. Their prices were good and the stuff came quickly. $7.95 flat rate shipping for a 50 pound package was nice, too!

I still need to get some tap handles. I have an idea for some cool ones…

Here’s the guts:

In the lower left is the wiring from the Love TS2 temperature controller. This is similar to the TSS2 that I used on the fermentation chamber, except this one does not handle both heating and cooling; it is for cooling only. Or heating. It can only do one thing – is what I’m trying to say. The temperature probe for the TS2 is in a wine bottle full of water. This is to buffer against rapid temperature swings. In the upper right is the CO2 manifold. This sends a single source of CO2 evenly to four kegs. It can be expanded later to support a fifth keg, or I can daisy-chain another manifold onto it. At the bottom right you can see where the beer lines connect to the tail end of the faucet shanks. Right now only the right-most one is serving beer.

And here’s a picture of the first pull of beer, Jess’s Brown Porter:

My APA is currently hooked up to the gas, carbonating. It should be ready to tap later this week.

I still have some work to do on the keezer, but it’s functional now. I need to make tap handles. I need to built a platform on casters so it can be wheeled around. It needs a drip tray below the faucets. I have to order one. Lastly, I want to get a bottle opener to mount on the collar between the TS2 and the faucets.

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Coming Soon…

September 13, 2011

The parts for the keezer came today. I hope to have it up and running by the end of this weekend.

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Score! Free Kegs

September 7, 2011

Check out what I landed for the price of… one six pack of homebrew:

I know a guy who knew a guy who had these for a long time and was happy to have them not taking up space anymore. I’m happy to have them taking up space!

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The Great East Coast Earthquake of 2011

August 23, 2011

Did your beer and wine survive the great east coast earthquake of 2011? Mine did. It was a bit hairy there for a minute, but it all survived:

In that pic is two carboys of syrah, one of brown porter, a bunch of traminette, and some noiret. The earthquake was significant here in Pittsburgh in that my office building downtown was swaying rather unnervingly. I got away from the windows because they were bowing and making noise. In all seriousness, I wasn’t really worried about the beer and wine, except that I thought those 750ml bottles might have fallen over in the shaking. Had the wine not been in the basement, it might have.

On the plus side, the four carboys I ordered for a steal from amazon ($25.50, shipped) arrived:

Unfortunately, one of them didn’t survive the earthquake.

Well, either the earthquake or the brown delivery company. One of those things wreaked havoc upon one of the carboys. Amazon has already created a new order to ship me a replacement.

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2011 Spalt Select Harvest

July 27, 2011

This evening I harvested the Spalt Select hops. That concludes this year’s hop harvest.

I got 4.5 ounces of hops. I imagine these will give me about 1.5 to 2 ounces of dried hops. The hops are in the Alton Brown dehydrator now. Once they’re dry, I’ll weigh them, sucky-thing them, then freeze them until I have a chance to brew a Pilsener to make use of them.

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