Thursday, November 6, 2014

Partigyle Party #2 Part 2!

Hi Everybody!

Back for the Partigyle Party #2, part 2.

On Thursday (10/23) night I did my starter of WLP013 for the Imperial Stout, and it was my first FermCapS adventure. Zero foam from the starter wort? Zero threat of exploding starter with the flask... well here is a picture:

Not sure why I waited so long to get FermCapS. I am now fully sold on the awesomeness.

In case you missed it, here is the grain bill we're working with:

14lbs Belgian Pils
5lbs Munich
1.75lbs Roast Barley
1lb Chocolate Malt
1lb C120
1lb C40
1lb Carapils

Total grist weight: 24.75lbs.

Today is the brew day, and we're coordinating getting strike water heated, plus making nachos and prepping chicken wings and turkey burgers for later in the afternoon. Here is my friend Dain doing the nacho prep, hockey on TV and brewing equipment around. Waiting on the strike water.

Milling the grain!

We did 25lbs before, so space in the MT isn't a concern today. Not one bit. This is the cooler with the grain in it:

Strike water gonna take a bit to reach the appropriate temp on the stove, but using two burners and having adequate distractions should suffice.

I intended the focus on the temp, but the first picture I took turned out like this. I prefer this one. The ladies enjoying some beer & hockey while Dain and I prep food and get brewin. I love days like this. I think the temp was around 130 there so getting closer.

For a while not a lot happened. Milled the grain, prepped strike water, the usual. Fortunately we have good beer, good people, hockey, and good food. We're not in a rush today. Not at all.

Trying to get my dog to jump. He jumps all the fucking time, except when you want him to.

Ah there he goes!

Ok back to the brewing!

For the Imperial we wound up with 4.5gals into the bucket at a gravity of 1.11. We used 2oz Challenger @60 and 2oz EKG @20. Used a 2L starter of WLP013. I thought about using Whirlfloc, but the color is so damn dark and laziness had taken hold so I didn't bother.

Ground water was a bit warm, so I got it down to 80F and then put it in the bucket, and into the swamp cooler to drop to pitch temps. Pitched about 4 hours later.

Aeration is still something I need to work on. As is, shaking like crazy is all I've got. Not ideal, but it has worked well for me so far. Christmas is coming, so maybe better aeration methods will be available for my next partigyle party in a few months!

For the second runnings we wound up at 5gals into the bucket at 1.040 post-boil. Used 1oz Willamette @ FWH. Single packet rehydrated S-04. Not sure what it'll be like, but we'll find out!

Same deal with chilling this one down. No second swamp cooler setup for this one, but I put it in a cool place (ambient around 60F) and pitched the next morning. Best I could do, but I've done it before with good results so not worried.

This took entirely too long to post, but with Halloween and whatnot, life got a little hectic in the post-brewing period and I didn't have time to look at the pictures, etc. I also didn't take nearly as many pictures as I wanted to, and I've decided next Partigyle Party I need to ask for a volunteer to just take a mess of pictures. Since I'm making sure the numbers work out and trying to not fuck things up in front of other people, I tend to get distracted and not take many pictures to document the process.

But this is all for fun anyway, so no big deal. We got to watch the Sharks game, and then the Giants game, so that was great. Had a couple other friends show up later in the day, but by then I was done with the camera entirely. Oh well, they still had food and beer too so theres that at least.

Next up, a side by side picture of my two beers from the first partigyle party. Somehow I forgot to fucking do that a month ago, but it's ok! They're better now anyway. Funny how time and cold clear 'em up so purdy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Partigyle Party #2 Part 1!

So we're still 4 days out, but I'm excited. On October 25th is my second Partigyle Party, which after the success/learning experience that was the original one back on August 30th I decided it's really the only way I want to brew for a while.

Why not? I mean, I get two different batches of beer out of one slightly longer brew day. I can use it as an excuse to invite a bunch of friends over, get a little BBQ action goin and coincidentally this one is scheduled to start at the same time as the Sharks game (1pm) on the 25th. Beer, BBQ, hockey. Who wouldn't want to spend a day with those things? Heathens. Filthy heathens. That's who.

Erhm... back on track.

So last time I did a somewhat "modified" partigyle that involved using a portion of the high gravity first runnings in the second batch to boost the gravity. Was strange, but it worked. This time around, we're going to do a more "traditional" partigyle.

The first runnings will be run off to make the first beer, and the second will make the second beer. No grist modifications, no combining runnings to even out gravity, none of that. This time, we're going for an Imperial Stout, and a... well, whatever comes out of the second runnings. Sweet Stout? Dry Stout? We'll sort that out after the fact.

Grain bill:

14lbs Belgian Pils
5lbs Munich
1.75lbs Roast Barley
1 each of Chocolate Malt, C120, C40, Carapils.

I haven't settled on hop additions just yet, but still some time to sort that out and a trip to the brew shop can be made day of if need be. We'll see. Going with WLP013 for the Imperial and probably go S-04 for the second runnings because I have it around, and laziness. Going to ramp up a 2L starter for the WLP013 tomorrow evening so I can crash and decant before brew day.

Gonna be making nachos, grilling some turkey burgers and various veggies during the brew day. Probably other stuff too, just haven't sorted that out yet. Should be good times. Pictures, details, etc to follow in Part 2!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Beer! Cider! Graff?

I've taken a bit of a break in the beer brewing since the partigyle party, mostly because I'm short on bottles and brewing two separate 5 gallon batches in one day provides quite a bit for my brewing pipeline.

I have no risk of running out of beer any time soon. Unless certain friends/family come over to help me with that particular problem, and then I'll brew more. But for now, I've got a decent bit of beer. Hefeweizen x2 ("normal" balanced Hefe, and the Banana Bomb Hefeweizen I open fermented), my Irish Red that tasted really off and now doesn't taste all that off, an English Barleywine, American Barleywine (both still aging out but I taste occasionally). Also just got to try my Galaxy IPA (2 weeks in the bottle) and it is delicious.

I have a Saison being bottled tomorrow as well.

All of those are five gallon batches, so there is an ample supply of beer at my house currently.

But I still want to make things! Brewing beer is a hard sale at home right now though, because we have so much (hint hint to friends reading this, you should probably drink more of my beer).

I like cider. I don't like cider long enough to wait a couple months for it to get good or longer for it to get better. The two Barleywine's I've done because I love the style in general and went with it. I don't like cider that much.

That's where graff comes into this situation. Specifically Brandon O's Graff.

I brewed up 5 gallons of it, slightly modified from his original recipe. Instead of DME, I used 3.5lbs of Belgian Pils. Subbed out the torrified wheat for carapils since it's what I had on hand.

Four gallons pasteurized Kirkland apple juice, one gallon wort made with 3.5lbs Belgian Pils, 2oz Carapils, 8oz C60 and .5oz Hallertau (had on hand, low AA).

I will probably be bottling that up in a couple weeks. Currently my bottle supply is somewhat lacking. So until people get me more bottles (I know a few of you are working on it), come over and drink my beer, or pitch in for a kegging system (wishful thinking!) I'm forced to delay bottling, which isn't really a big deal. Just how it is at the moment, means I've got a good supply going though so there is that!

More updates to come regarding the Graff, my Galaxy IPA and the Saison.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Parti-gyle Party

August 21:
I have been curious about parti-gyle brewing for quite some time now. When I was doing single vessel BIAB, I simply lacked the capacity to do it.

In case you have no idea wtf parti-gyle is theres a link. But the TL;DR version is this: One grain bill for two beers. You mash once, take the first runnings for a "strong" beer and then do it again and take the second runnings for a "normal/weak" beer.

Well, my friend Dain said he wants to brew some beer. And not just some beer, he wants to do two batches in one day. He has helped me with several brews in the past, so he knows how long it takes, so this isn't an ignorantly enthusiastic "hey two batches is better than one" thing. He knows. Long day but cool let's do it. Also gives me an excuse to see how parti-gyle goes!

August 23:
After a bit of discussion and much thinking helped along by the Pari-gyle party thread I posted on 8/22, here is what we're doing: Start with 25lbs grain. Assuming 75% efficiency, that means we should get first runnings at 1.099. I'm going to mash for 6 gallons of wort, drain off 4 gallons and top up with tap water. That should get us a gravity of 1.060 pre-boil at 6.5 gallons and should boil off to 1.075 @ 5.2gals.

That leaves 2 gallons of 1.099 wort, right? Maybe. I'm getting conflicting information on this. My decision is to take frequent readings with my refractometer and see what happens, adjust as I go.

Things will happen! Beer will be made!

August 25:
I've decided on the grain bill.
  • 20lbs Pilsner
  • 5lbs Munich
  • 1lb C40
The C40 will be held back until the sparge. Just for the IPA. And for those saying "but an IPA shouldn't be done with Pilsner," all I can say is why not? I do what I want. Pils + Munich = delicious. To me, simple is better. So while I've seen a lot of Saison recipes using flaked wheat, etc, that would further push the grist beyond IPA territory instead of simply into "weird" IPA territory. Figure we'll call it an English IPA anyway since we don't plan to dry hop it, and with the use of Pils and Munich it'll be quite a bit more malty than an American IPA regardless.

August 30: 
Brew day has arrived! First step: To the LHBS!

Picked up 5lbs German Dark Munich, 1.25lbs C40 (overshot and was too lazy to fix it), and er... well, I got a 55lb sack of Belgian Pilsner because it's delicious and I'll use it anyway. Using 20lbs for this recipe, leaves me plenty to play with later. Also picked up some packets of US-04 and 4oz Saaz for the Saison. Already have the 6oz Galaxy for the IPA and the WLP565 for the Saison, so that's that.

Milling 25lbs by hand was a tad more than I wanted to do, but I don't have a corded drill. I'll fix that. Milling 15 isn't that big a deal, but 25 before strike temp is a challenge. Fortunately my friend Dain is here, so we took turns and wound up finishing up the milling about 5 minutes before the strike temp (165) was achieved.

We added the grain when the cooler got to about 1/3 full. I wasn't 100% confident I could mash 25lbs @ 1.5qt/lb. Turns out it isn't a problem, just a tight fit. I wanted the grain in there so if it was going to overflow I could just kill the flow and mash a little thicker. Not necessary in the end.

My friend Dain stirring up the mash. Tight fit, but it works! The dog is curious too. 

This mash weighs over 100lbs. Nine gallons of water comes in around 75lbs, plus 25lbs of grain is 100lbs plus cooler weight... yep.

Gravity of first runnings: 1.100, at least as near as I can tell with my refrac that was calibrated this morning.

We drained 3.5 gallons. Diluted with 3, got to 1.054 pre-boil. Gravity into the fermenter was at 1.065

Added 1.25lb C40, batch sparged with 4.5 gallons of water.

Drained remainder of first, and then second runnings, gravity at 1.052 pre-boil.

People told me I couldn't do it. Well, I done it. Could I do it again? Why not? Worked out according to plan this time! And by plan, I mean the inkling of a plan because I figured it should work close to this anyway. And it did.

Partigyle grain: 
20lbs Belgian Pilsner, 5lbs German Dark Munich
Added for IPA: 
1.25lb C40

Saison Hop Schedule:
Saaz 2oz @20, 10.
IBU: ~25
OG: 1.065 @ approx 5.4gals
Yeast: 1L Starter WLP565

IPA Hop Schedule:
Galaxy 2oz @15, 5 (Whirlfloc here too), 0.
IBU: ~65
OG: 1.058 @ approx 5.4gals
Yeast: S-04

Other Thoughts:
The bag that my friend Misty made really held up well. I didn't notice any straining of the fabric or stitching whatsoever. With 25lbs of grain, moving it around was simple enough with the handles and now that I've reached my mash limit I'm certainly going to be doing this again soon without any worries whatsoever. Shameless plug for her and this awesome bag.

Other than the bag being awesome. This method took us approximately 6.5hrs. Solo, I'm sure it'd be pushing 7.5. My daughter helped us a bit, but we also took frequent breaks as we made nachos and did some grilling while we were brewing. The 6.5hrs is a pretty damn good mark to hit for 10 gallons of awesome. I'm really tempted to pick up another 8-10gal kettle though, because then I could just boil them both at the same time and it'd only end up adding cleaning time rather than an additional boil + misc. other time.

I wish I had taken more pictures, but between drinking, playing with/entertaining Ayva, keeping the dog from eating the nachos, etc... well, picture taking was limited. Oh well.

My next partigyle brew will be a RIS and a Dry Stout. Will be a far more "traditional" partigyle in that I won't be banking some high gravity wort to spike the second runnings. It'll just be first runnings = one beer, second runnings = the second beer. Gonna have to wait a bit for that though, because I just don't have the bottle capacity to handle this kind of volume more than once every couple months! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Banana Bomb exBEERiment!

I was reading this post on the /r/homebrewing subreddit and became intrigued when I came across a comment (probably still the top one in that thread) that linked to this thread regarding open fermentation for optimal production of banana esters.
Well, I can't do a side by side fermentation test because I already bottled a hefeweizen. Exact same recipe I used before, and so far as I can tell same results. Awesome balanced clove and banana from the 64-69F temps.

Instead my plan is to do the exact same brew again, but open ferment for the first few days. Since I've already brewed the exact same recipe twice and reproduced the original result, I'm fairly confident I'll be able to tell what the differences are in this exbeeriment.

The brew day went pretty smoothly. I didn't bother with pictures, because as far as brew days go it was fairly inconsequential. I used 4lbs White Wheat and 4lbs Pilsner malts. Mashed at 154, mashed out at 170 (no sparge easymode activate!). The only hop addition was 1oz Hallertau, FWH. So basically after mashing all I had to do was wait for it to boil for 90 minutes.

Chilling was a bit of an annoyance with our recent heat wave. Immersion chiller only got it down to 75, so I had to let it sit in my 20gal cooling trash can with ice packs and whatnot for a few hours to get it down to around the 68F pitching temp I was aiming for today. No big deal.

Here it is, yeast pitched (7/27/14)! To be open fermented for 72hrs.

I didn't get a lot of pictures of the krausen, but it basically looked like this from ~12hrs on. But here it is about 48hrs in:

We'll see what happens in a couple weeks! Open fermenting period complete on 7/30/14. Lid on with airlock.

Notes during the open fermentation period: It looked awesome, as you can see above. But the smell. Oh my goodness the smell. It was divine. If you like bananas, at least. My entire brew/computer/workout room was smelling like banana bread for three days.

Compared to the normal fart aroma wafting out of the airlock from WLP300 that I'm used to, this was a welcome change and I hope an indication of what is to come when it's ready to drink.

Notes after lid is on: I really wish I had taken more pictures with the lid off, but it's really just krausen, so whatever. I need to obtain more bottles, brewing 20 gallons of beer has depleted my supply! Working on that, but I've got a couple weeks so should be fine.

Bottling day tasting notes 8/10: Obviously this is still flat beer, but I can certainly taste the banana-ness coming through. It isn't as strong as I thought it might be, but it's also not carbonated yet. So we'll see!

Comparative tasting 8/23: Just short of two weeks, but this isn't a particularly strong beer (4% ABV) and having brewed this exact same Hefeweizen a couple times before with the lid on, the others were carbonated in 10-12 days anyway. Figured this one would probably work the same way, and it certainly did. Probably helps that ambient temps have been in the high 70's low 80's here for the past few weeks, but either way I'll take it.

So as previously noted I've brewed this exact recipe with a closed lid being the only difference twice now as well. With the closed lids, I always get a balance of clove and banana. It's just a deliciously balanced Hefeweizen and I have no regrets doing that.

The open fermented Hefeweizen however. Banana. Banana all the way. The difference in aroma, the difference in flavor, it's all there. Both recipes were done 100% the same way, the only difference being the lid not being on the bucket for the first 72hrs. The temperatures were the same, both used 1L starters on the same stir plate... as close to the same beer as I can reasonably make it, without the lid on the banana bomb. And it is a banana bomb.

Recap: 4lbs White Wheat, 4lbs Pilsner. 1oz Hallertau FWH, 1L starter WLP300. Open ferment 72hrs, cover for the remainder of 2 weeks. OG was 1.044 (~75% efficiency), FG 1.010 so around 4% ABV.

Conclusion: The only thing I can really say about this method is: Holy shit. It works. It works amazingly. If you like banana esters, this will do the trick. Just make sure nothing falls in while it's open fermenting and you're golden.

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Brew Day Checklist in 15 Steps.

I've noticed a bit of a silly trend of people with not enough to do while heating strike water or mashing. But then forgetting steps, using the wrong hops, the wrong yeast, whatever the case may be in their haste to make up time later on in the brew day. Generally people not enjoying the process because it feels rushed.

Look, the fact of the matter is it's gonna be ~4hrs from start to end of the brew day (less if extract, but I'm talking all grain) assuming you've got an immersion chiller (or other chilling method aside from ice bath) and have your process dialed in. There are a number of things that must be done, but you don't need to rush any of it at all. If you find yourself rushed to do anything, you lack the ability to manage your time. Learning how to manage your time during your brew session is essential to making it an enjoyable, relaxing time of day. It's going to take up a good chunk of your day, you should enjoy it!

Now if you bought the wrong ingredients at the LHBS or whatever the case may be there, can't help you with that! The one time that happened to me so far I just rolled with it and made some tasty beer regardless. Not the end of the world long as you have base malt and yeast, really. Now I make sure to write down my list (or print it off) before I purchase ingredients and double check before the purchase. But if you just wing it, sometimes that happens.

Below is my brew day checklist.

The first step, start strike water heating. For me, it takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes to heat the strike water depending on the grain amount (which dictates water amount). During this time, I do the following:

1: Make sure ingredients are all sorted properly. For me this means make sure the grain is ready to be milled, remove the yeast from the fridge, the hops from the freezer, and lay it all out on the countertop. Once I verify all the things are there and as they should be, I mill the grain.

1a: Play with my daughter and/or let her help mill grain. Remember that I put the yeast back into the fridge, and remove it so it's at room temperature when it's time to pitch.

2: Calibrate! Seriously, your thermometer(s), hydrometer, and if you have one your refractometer. Calibrating them regularly ensures you get the correct readings, and make the best beer you can. Especially important for the mash is going to be the thermometer.

One of the biggest reasons people have issues in the mash is a faulty thermometer. The other is the crush on their grain, but if you've had it crushed at the LHBS there isn't a lot to be done about that 'cept double mill it and hope for the best. Personally, I say get yourself a mill and then the biggest thing to keep an eye on after you dial in the crush is your temps.

You don't necessarily need to calibrate every time you brew. I do it because it's part of my routine and it takes a few seconds to do.

3: Double check strike/mash volume numbers. If you use software to do it for you, you're probably fine with this. I prefer to do it myself. Only takes a few seconds with a calculator anyway.

3a: Play with my daughter.
I've sorted out that I have about 20 minutes to watch her out front on her bike before it gets close enough to strike temps I need to actually be inside/paying attention. Usually works out well enough, she gets bored after about 20 minutes anyway. Worst case scenario we go into the backyard and play more out there 5-10 minutes later anyway.

If you've got a lot of time left after doing that, pour yourself a beer and relax. At the very least you've done things that needed doing to make sure your brew day goes smoothly. If you aren't brewing with a small child you'll probably have more down time, but I love my brew days the way they are and would be bored without her help.

Note that you may have less time than me while heating strike water. I use two burners on my gas stove, and it gets the job done just fine but it isn't fast by any stretch. If you use propane you probably don't have time to play nearly as much as I do so you'll need to adjust accordingly. 

Second step to the brew day is the mash. Once I've mashed in and everything is set, there is about an hour to kill. What to do, what to do... for me it's simple:

4: Check calculations again. Prep mash out and/or sparge water.

4a: Have debate as to the existence of monsters with my daughter. Convince her starsan kills monsters.

5: Sanitize things. Get a bucket of starsan going and use it to sanitize things for post-boil. I do this early so if I forget something the first time I'm putting things in the bucket there is still tons of time to add things later.

5a: Have my daughter drop things into the bucket and try not to splash it everywhere.

6: Prep for grain disposal. I dump mine into a compost heap in the backyard, I like to prep a hole to dump it into.

7: Test my immersion chiller. I haven't had issues with it, but I still test it during the mash on each batch. If I'm going to have an issue I'd rather discover it prior to having it in the wort to chill it.

8: Finish mashing (mash out, sparge, whatever I'm doing for that batch) and transfer to BK.

For steps 6-8 here the little one is usually bored of the process and watching a movie instead. This makes the rest of my brew day flow smoothly without interruption except occasionally getting her a snack or telling her not to try to eat a blanket. I just chill with her on the couch when I've got nothing to do at the moment. Sometimes she naps! Oh those rare nap days...

Third step to the brew day is the boil. I'm usually so well prepared for this step by now that it takes almost zero effort:

Bring to a boil and make sure it doesn't boil over. Seriously. Think you've got enough headspace? Yeah. You're probably going to be wrong sooner or later (try it with a rye beer, I dare you). Or get some FermCapS. I just haven't done that yet, not sure why. Keep a spray bottle (water, starsan, whatever. Just have one ready) if you don't have another method of foam control for boil overs. Spray the crap out of it when the foam starts to rise and you'll kill it before it's a problem.

10: Add hops throughout the boil according to hop schedule. This step benefits from the double checking you should have done at the start of your brew day. If you lined up your hop additions properly before this, you won't need to worry about using the wrong ones when it comes time to add 'em.

Steps 10 and 11 happen more or less at the same time for me. Unless you're doing a crazy hop schedule, you've got time to do 11 while 10 is going on. I almost always can.

11: Dump grain and rinse out cooler & bucket that I milled the grain into. Leave upside down in the backyard to dry. Spray down grain bag that I use with hose. This entire process should take no more than 5 minutes if you do it slowly.

12: Add immersion chiller and whirlfloc @ 10min.

This is by far the easiest part of the brew day. By now everything should be ready to wind down.

13: Chill the wort to pitching temps & transfer to vessel you're going to ferment in. If I can't get it to fermenting temps, chill as much as I can then allow to drop to pitching temps overnight, no big deal.

The next two steps can be done in either order. For me it depends on time of year - if the ground water is cool enough to drop to pitching temps I'll do 15 then 14. Otherwise it's 14 then 15.

14: Clean. Rinse out everything immediately, scrub the kettle if need be. Clear brew related clutter from the kitchen. Because I already cleaned the cooler, rinsed the grain bag and the bucket that held the milled grain in step 11 the final cleanup process really does not take much time at all.

15: Pitch the yeast. DONE!

That wasn't so bad, now was it?

I allow myself an hour for strike water/grain prep time even though I never use the full hour. I give myself an hour and 15 minutes for the mash, because sometimes I go over. Sometimes I don't. The boil I do 60-90 minutes depending on grist (Pilsner malt I go to 90). Sometimes I boil longer if I overshot volume.

That's roughly ~3.5hrs. If I clean while I go it doesn't add much time at all. Chilling time adds a little, but shouldn't add that much. All told, an extra 30-60 minutes and I should be 100% completely done with everything. That means the house looks like it did before I started (hopefully cleaner).

I round up to 4.5hrs for my total brew schedule just in case. If I finish before that, great success! I've only gone over once, and it was one of my first all grain batches. I've learned a lot since then.

To me it's a fairly therapeutic way to spend the day. I get to focus my energies on making something delicious. I get to engage my mind sorting out the correct volumes, temperatures, etc, and I get to spend quality time with my daughter throughout the process. She may not fully understand what we're doing every step of the way, but she knows that I like it and that she can help. Plus grain is tasty, so there is also that.

Some people might read this and think "wow, that's a lot of steps and work!" That is an accurate statement. It is a good amount of work and steps. However, it all leads to the final product. Delicious, delicious beer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Canning Wort for Starters

So I did a previous post about saving wort to use for starters and discovered a few important things.

First and foremost, it isn't truly safe to do so without pressure canning (15psi for ~20mins). Second that it's actually a fairly common thing for people that are into canning and beer brewing to do, which is awesome! I had no idea. So I learned a lot from my first post, although several people did reach out to let me know how stupid I was for even considering doing it the way I originally proposed.

I do appreciate the feedback I got on it though, because of all the vitriol thrown my way, two people actually had legitimate insight and helped me see the best way to do it.

I'll be taking mason jars, filling with wort runnings of 1.040ish (1.035-1.040 is good) and pressure canning them. This has two benefits. First of course is to make it safe for use later, no worries about spores surviving and whatnot. The second is it'll make them last quite a bit longer.

What I plan to do as a result of learning the correct way to go about this:
  • 20lbs 2row
  • Mash @ 152 for 1hr.
  • Fill 16oz mason jars with first runnings until I'm out of jars.
  • Add specialty/other grains to make an APA.
  • Mash @ 152 for another hour.
  • Continue on as normal for an APA.
Why first runnings, you ask? Simple. It allows me to use 16oz jars. I can simply dilute down to the proper starter gravity with water, so rather than having to store larger jars I store many smaller jars. Because these are being pressure canned, there is no need to tie up refrigerator space with them, which means storage is a non-issue.

If you wanted to do it with second runnings you could simply do the mash normally and use larger jars (or more smaller jars). But then you're going to end up wasting some of the tastiness from specialty grains in the original mash anyway. This was a big part of my decision, along with already having 16oz jars.

The APA choice is simply because I'd like to brew that style. I may change my mind, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Any style will work. I am choosing only to mash a base malt for the starter wort canning, because nothing else is needed for that simple purpose and it'd be a waste of other ingredients to do it any other way.

This is basically a partigyle brew, except that the first runnings go towards making many more batches down the road rather than one strong and one not so strong batch from the same grist. Works for me.

All that said, this is gonna have to wait a while before I can actually see it through. It will extend my brew day a couple hours (including doing the canning, the extra cleanup, etc) and I don't see being able to do this on a day when my daughter is home. Going to have to be a day when I've got the house to myself. I'll have to just be opportunistic about this particular brew, but I think I can probably pull this off in a month or two.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

"Real" Wort Starters

Edit: The below post was made in ignorance of several facts. I have revised what I plan to do. I am leaving the below post here because the thought process and the overall plan has not changed. The method of storage is the primary change due to new (to me) knowledge.

This morning (8/9) over on /r/homebrewing I noticed a post about a "Real Wort Starter," and I decided this blog post needed to happen. I know this isn't my own unique idea by any means and others have done it before, but this also isn't something that I've seen articulated particularly well anywhere before.

This is something I think that doesn't really get mentioned very much because the common method of just using DME for a starter is so simple. And it is simple, don't get me wrong. But it is still an additional thing to do, and if you plan ahead isn't necessary!

Not necessary eh? Not necessary. I'll explain.

My next brew will be the very last one I use a DME starter for. Why? Because I plan to brew a Saison that if I end up at 4 gallons instead of 5, won't hurt my feelings. Let me elaborate.

I am going to brew a big Saison (well, 1.070ish most likely, maybe bigger) and draw off the second runnings into 32oz mason jars. Measure gravity. If it's close enough to 1.040, good enough for me. I can always dilute down slightly after the fact, and my second runnings aren't likely to be a lot lower than 1.040 with the grist I'm planning.

For this, I plan to do 2x 32oz jars, which should be enough for two brews. Or one big one. Why? Because this allows for larger than a 1L starter if I want to, or two 1L starters if I'm too lazy to harvest more on my next batch. I will then continue drawing off as needed to ensure my supply of starter wort stays at adequate levels for future brews.

Edit: This will be my first (small) batch as I am able to pressure can two jars with my current equipment. A larger canner will be required for future large harvesting of starter wort, but worthwhile imo.

But wait, the wort might ferment! This isn't safe!

Yes, I had thought of this as well. Putting the wort into jars immediately after the mash probably isn't the best plan if you just seal it up and hope for the best. There are a few options here. First is the way I'm going to go, which is to pasteurize in my dishwasher (it has a sanitize setting on it and has pasteurized soda in the past with zero issues). The other alternative is to simply freeze it. Or pasteurize and then freeze if you want. I may or may not freeze either way, but I will certainly pasteurize.

Edit:  Thanks to /u/testingapril and /u/professorheartcraft
The only safe way to do this is going to be pressure canning. No problem for me. I'll be doing this, as it is easily done inexpensively for me.

Testingapril mentioned botulism. I was not previously aware that this was a thing, and today I learned. While it may not actually happen in a way that is dangerous to me, I don't think it's worthwhile to forego canning simply because I need to get a canner. It's useful for other things too, so why not? I was previously resistant to the idea, but I can't justify it if there is any actual risk.

But wait, THERES MORE!

More?! Yes. More. The number one thing that people whine about is needing to worry about boilovers from adding DME. I simply won't boil. Why would I want to boil starter wort, when its already been pasteurized anyway? Simply add to the flask at room temperature, add yeast and start spinning. No muss no fuss.


Most of the starter beer will simply be decanted prior to pitching, so frankly I'm not concerned about that. If someone can point me to actual science that states what I'm doing will destroy my beer, I will of course reconsider. I could simply pull the wort off towards the end of the boil, that would work as well. But I do not believe this will actually be necessary. Time will tell, and if I taste a problem I will certainly look to this as a potential culprit. But again, I do not see this as being an issue.

Below is my story of my first real wort starter, and part of my inspiration for my current proposed process above. Could have made this its own post, but I think it fits well here too:

On 8/3 I brewed what will likely be an interesting beer, and this is when I first made a "real" wort starter.

The recipe:
6lbs 2row
4lbs pilsner
3lbs rye
1lb C40

.5oz Galena @60

WLP300 stressed to produce banana esters.

The problem. I had originally planned on only having the 6lbs 2row, 3lbs rye and 1lb C40 for this brew. The 4lbs of pilsner malt added at the last second pushed the OG from ~1.050 to what wound up being 1.070. Volume from 5 to 6 gallons as well, so it could have been an even higher gravity.

Now above when I say "WLP300 stressed to produce banana esters," what I mean is a 20% underpitch, a warmer fermentation temperature, and hoping for the best. I plan to modify this recipe further towards my final goal of a banana bread beer, but in the meantime I'm experimenting to see what happens when I do X vs. Y, basically.

So. You see my problem, yes? I had originally planned on a ~1.050 OG 20% underpitch which happily enough came in at a .5L starter. Hooray!

But if I did a .5L starter into 1.070 wort, I'm looking at a ~40% underpitch. Little more than I'm comfortable with, frankly. So. What to do?


Finish my mashing and sparging, pop the kettle onto the stove and let it boil for a few minutes. Draw off boiled wort, dilute to starter temps and build up the starter overnight! I can just pitch in the morning, won't hurt anything.

Long story short, that worked awesomely and that beer is currently fermenting away like crazy. Glad I used a blowoff, though at 6 instead of 5 gallons and 1.070 instead of 1.050, if you don't use a blowoff I think you've got some mental deficiency going on.

Friday, August 8, 2014


So after posting my Custom BIAB Review, I realized (and got several questions about) that not many people mash in a bag, in a cooler.

So I got to thinking and I'd really like opinions on this, but why not?

Higher efficiency through super fine crush. I mill my own grain and have it set to .032 and double mill. Around 75-80% efficiency depending on grist, though I've hit 86% once on a super simple brew.

Zero fear of stuck anything because nothing gets out of the bag except for some very fine particles. And wort. Lots of delicious tasty wort.

Speaking of nothing getting out of the bag except wort. The vorlauf process is stupid easy, because even the first runnings will run clear when I open it full blast after about a second. I batch sparge and the second runnings are clear after about the same amount of time, one second on full blast.

A big one for me that I'm sure also plays into the efficiency, but one that a lot of people rarely consider: Less wort loss. Hows that? Simple. Without a bag, you can't very well squeeze your grain to get every last bit of precious wort out of it. You could wait with the tun tilted, but sooner or later it stops and you're left with less wort due to absorption by the grain. I just grab the handles, lift it up and give it a twist. I can then slide an oven rack under it solo or if a friend is helping, have him do that part. Solo isn't even hard, I'm just lazy.

Cleanup is a breeze. I know it isn't terribly difficult without a bag, but it's easier with a bag. Simply dump the grain by turning the bag inside out, hose the bag down and hang it up to try. The cooler just needs a quick rinse with the hose as well, and there are no grain bits in there.

So. Am I crazy? Why don't more people do this? The only thing I can think of is "it isn't the traditional way." And if that's your way of thinking then so be it, but I've just taken that "traditional" way and made it easier.

If you can think of an actual reason why this is a bad idea, or somehow less optimal than I believe it to be, I really want to know. I am not opposed to installing a false bottom or whatever in my mash tun, I simply don't see any real benefit over using a bag. I do see potential drawbacks though, hence my reluctance to do so.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Custom BIAB Review

Full disclosure: The person that made this bag is a good friend of mine. That being said, this review is focused on the bag. The construction, the material and the use of the bag. I do not get commission on this. Only thanks from a friend if she sells some of these. These are listed on etsy on her shop. I bought one and am thrilled with it, hence this review.

I asked my friend Misty to make a bag for me to brew with because the cheap piece of shit bag I was using was a cheap piece of shit and was starting to fray and tear anyway. I know there are other established options out there, but I also don't need a pulley or anything else and didn't really want to spend $35+ on a bag. I'm not a "cheap" person per se, but I find it hard to justify that. I realize it's a custom made bag to the dimensions of the vessel it's going to fit into, but still.

Misty informed me she could certainly do it for $25 shipped, and so the challenge began.

Here is bag #1

As you can see, it's a tad small for my cooler. Not a big deal, as it is bigger than my previous bag and the construction is solid. But this was a learning experience and she quickly went and did another one, making it slightly wider to fold over the top. I subjected this bag to the same testing as the second one I'm reviewing further below, and for someone with a narrower kettle for BIAB than my cooler, it'd work great. It's my backup now, though I'll probably give it away to someone I know that may start brewing soon.

Here is bag #2:

As you can see here, it is wider and overlaps the cooler just fine.

Here it is in use:

The recipe used above:
6lbs 2row
4lbs pilsner
3lbs rye
1lb C40

.5oz Galena @60

WLP300 stressed to produce banana esters.

Looks weird? Yep! We'll see what happens. Either awesome or terrible but this is the price of experimentation.

I wound up at 1.070 with 6 gallons of wort. I could have boiled it down more, but the pilsner malt addition was a last minute decision. I wasn't sure what to expect on efficiency with a new bag so figured wtf I'll toss in more grain and see what happens. Well, 81% ain't too shabby.

The grist used for this one isn't particularly heavy at 14bs of grain total. But it isn't that light either when soaked. The handles are very well secured on there and at no point did it feel like it was stressed in any way detectable to me.

On to the construction and material. It is made with cotton poly voile, and polyester thread. Very sturdy. The first thing I did when I got it was try to break it by pulling it apart. I have a luggage scale (not the exact same but same weight limit) and maxed it out without any visible stress on the bag. Pulled a little harder after that, but didn't put all my strength into it because there was no point beyond that. Grain won't be putting more stress than I just applied to it, and certainly not the way I applied it.

The bag has an extremely fine mesh. This is ideal for super fine crush, but it does require some patience in draining the bag. Not really a problem for me as I lift and spin the bag to squeeze it out a bit before I set it on a rack above the cooler to drain before I (batch) sparge if I'm going to do so. This is going to be the tradeoff for a super fine mesh though on any bag. Coarser mesh and it'll drain faster, but you'll also end up with a lot more grain bits in there. I personally am very happy with this compromise. So is my efficiency.

Cleaning. Extremely easy. It is made in such a way that if you can hose it off, you'll be set. All I did was flip it inside out while dumping, lay out on the cement and spray it down. Pick it up, rinse the grain off the ground and lay it down again for another spray. Hang it up to dry, give it a shake and it's grain free and looks like new again.

Using my five star rating system:
Construction/Materials: 5
Durability: 5
Awesomeness: 5
Value: 5

I highly, highly recommend this bag. Make sure you measure height and diameter of your vessel properly. It ships USPS Priority Mail, and the shipping is included in the price of the bag.

Want an awesome, extremely durable and reasonably priced bag? You can purchase one at this etsy link. Comments? Questions? Let me know and I'm happy to answer.

Don't Panic.

The "is it infected" posts will never cease. Sometimes they're entertaining, sometimes they're not. Either way, it's not that big of a deal.

That got me thinking a bit, and the first thought that came into my head was "don't panic." Why? Because that seems to be the response about the three things. While infections can ruin a brew (and unplanned ones generally do) it isn't the end of the world. It's potentially the end of a batch, and you should use it as a learning experience. Find where you went wrong in your process and fix it.

Moving along...

Thing #1: Infections. Here are some pictures of infected brews.

Does yours look like that? No? Ok. Does it smell bad? And I don't mean rhino fart smell for some yeast strains. Google your yeast strain and see if what you're smelling is normal. If it smells "off" then you're gonna need to wait a bit and see if anything else happens, as this may still actually be nothing significant.

If it turns out your brew is infected, you have two options. The first is to dump it, and the second is to wait it out.

If you wait it out, be aware that it will likely take months to stabilize and be safe to bottle. We're talking 3-6 months. So if you don't want to tie up your bucket or carboy for that long, option #1 is really the only viable one at that point.

If you do want to tie up your vessel for that long, be aware that you're more likely to have a bug that isn't going to make a particularly tasty brew. Unless your recipe is supposed to be funky/sour, the odds of having something that tastes good... well, they aren't good. It is certainly possible, but you'll need to wait a long time to find out. Is it worth it? I honestly don't think so, but that's up to you.

If you bottle it before the bug is done, bottle bombs are a huge risk. You'll want to ensure gravity is stable over several weeks at least before you bottle to be on the safe side for something like this. Can't rush it.

Thing #2: Did I ruin my brew?! 

The answer to this is almost always "wait and see," because it's hard to know for sure on a lot of things.

Here are some common concerns and answers:

If you splashed hose water into your brew while chilling it, no one online can tell you if it's ruined. You have to wait and see.

Did you add too much top-up water to an extract brew? Relax. You're fine, it'll just be a weaker beer. Only time can tell if it really ruined it, but odds are in your favor on this one.

Did you forget priming sugar? To buy some carb-drops and recap after you drop those in. This is the easiest way to go about fixing that problem. You could gently pour into the bottling bucket and prime with sugar that way, but the risk of oxidizing your beer is way too high for my liking.

Did you pitch hot? Well, it depends how hot. If it's under 100F you're still makin beer. But you may end up with fusels and a lot of fruity esters that aren't necessarily supposed to be in the style you're brewing. If it's over, you probably killed the yeast, but it really depends how much over. Give it a couple days and pop the lid on the bucket (or look at the carboy) and if you see no activity (krausen, foam) your options are dump, or (the better option) pitch some more yeast. Whether or not it's ruined at this point is again a matter of waiting and seeing.

Now if you went and mashed at 170F, yeah your brew probably isn't going to be great. Good news is you've learned something. Whether that be proper mash temperatures, calibrating your thermometers, or whatever it is you learned, you learned something to improve your process and make better beer next time.

Thing #3: It isn't carbonated!

Patience young padawan.

Did you add priming sugar? Yes? How much? If you used a priming sugar calculator you probably added enough. If not, use it now and hopefully you noted how much you primed with before so you can reference that.

What temperature are you carbonating it at? Room temp ~70F ambient for 2-3 weeks is the general rule of thumb. Some may be carbonated faster, some may take longer.

How did you mix your priming sugar? If you dissolved it in water and either racked on top of it and/or gave it a stir to make sure it was well mixed into the beer, you're probably fine. If you didn't, you may have uneven carbonation. What this means is some of your bottles may be extremely carbonated and others barely carbonated.

If you didn't forget priming sugar and you're carbonating at 70F ambient, wait it out a bit longer. It can take longer than 3 weeks too, really just depends. High gravity brews can take longer than that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Red Wheat Citrus Bomb: Update Picture & Notes

I think the above picture speaks pretty nicely for itself. Such a pretty beer. For those that did not see my original process post regarding this brew, you can certainly click back to the original post if you like. The recipe is listed below:

Approximately 9lbs White Wheat (in the brown bag, approx. because it hit 9lbs and added a little more)

.5oz Galena @60min
1oz Citra @10min
1oz Citra @5min
1oz Citra @0min

US-05 lazy-mode (dry pitch, OG was 1.042, FG 1.010)

Whirlfloc @ ~10mins <-- only clarifying aside from time in the bottle

5 Oranges, 4 Lemons, 2 Grapefruits zested and added @5mins.

Two beets, sliced and blended thoroughly with approximately 4 cups of water. Strained solids out and added with the zest.

This is an easy drinker. So much so that it's almost gone! I brewed it on June 4th and I may need to do it again soon. It's more of a Citra bomb than Citrus bomb, but I am not at all opposed to this. If/when I do brew it again I'll probably cut the 10min addition in half. Or not. May just do it as is again, because I'm enjoying the hell out of it and so has everyone thats tried it so far.

There is a smooth bitterness from the Galena that - I think - is quite nice when paired with the amount of zest and Citra hops added. I definitely taste grapefruit from the Citra. The grapefruit zest is probably there too but it blends in too much with the hop flavors. I can detect the orange and lemon zests, but it does take some effort with the overwhelming Citra presence, but I enjoy that as well anyway.

I am holding some in reserve for two reasons. One, someone I know from reddit/his blog may be in the bay area in the near future and expressed interest in trying it/review it on his blog. Two, one person (maybe two?) on reddit expressed concern that it may turn brown with time. So far so good, still a beautiful beer, but I suppose since time is the only thing that will really tell I'll just have to wait it out.

At any rate, I noticed that while I had posted my process and a picture of the beer in a hydrometer tube, I had not posted the finished product here. So here we have it! The Red Wheat Citrus Bomb in all its glory!

Making Use of Your Fresh Fruit: Infusions

It is a bit of a romantic image. Show up at a Polish man's house, where he pulls out a bottle of homemade vodka and serves you a glass.This image is not gone. It is, however, a bit different than the western vision of vodka in Eastern Europe. Here, clear vodkas are cheap, good, and readily available. The term vodka has broader use, however. It includes such things as whiskeys, brandies, and flavored vodkas that do not resemble their distance cousins on Western shelves. Also, it can be used for something homemade by the average person, without the assistance of a still.

Here in Poland there is a tradition of making nalewka. The most appropriate translation for this is tincture. Brewers know this term from using vodka to create tinctures to add to their brews to enhance it with flavors that would otherwise ferment out. Here in Poland, the same tinctures are served as their own drinks. Many Poles pride themselves on their homemade tinctures, often keeping their unique recipes to themselves. Commercial offerings try to capture this tradition and you can find both cheap and expensive options in liquor stores and premium food stores.

The best method, as always, is doing it yourself at home. It is a great method for getting value out of your fruit that may otherwise have gone unused. Mirabelle plums (shown below) are not eaten often, and usually used either in alcohols or jams. Slicing them up and throwing them in a jar will extract the flavor, which can be brought back out by adding sugars. Tinctures are best made with higher quality vodka or rectified spirits (up to 99% concentration). They will enhance the flavor of cheap vodka for those who want to, but can make remarkable drinks if good quality ingredients are used.

When you've finished making a tincture by soaking your fruit, you can strain the solids out either using a strainer, cheesecloth, or sometimes coffee filters. I've had issues with coffee filters clogging, and tend to use a metal strainer for ease. My mission fig tincture (shown below) turned into one of my best liqueurs and was strained through a cheesecloth (which continuously clogged).

After straining fully and adding in syrups, most people put it back into the bottles that the vodka/spirits came out of (as below).

I often try to repurpose swing-top clear bottles from products that I would readily buy. Below is a kwas that I purchased to drink, which came in a beautiful bottle. I also buy my olive oil exclusively in such bottles
to store my tinctures.

Spices can be added in to syrups. I tend to enjoy the unaltered flavors of the fruit and use simple syrup to enhance their flavor without adding in anything but sweetness. Infusions can have variety limited only by your creativity and available ingredients. A common liqueur here is made by heating a porter (yes, the beer) with sugar and spices (vanilla predominantly) and adding it 2:1 or 1:1 with vodka. My liquor cabinet is slowly becoming dominated by them. Currently I have bottles of dried fig, quince, porter, sweet gold cherry, and sour glass cherry nalewki (plural of nalewka). I'm infusing vodka to add Mirabelle plums to this collection. I also have a cranberry commercially made nalewka, and caramel and black lotus nalewki from others. Additionally, I have a few bottles of vodkas commercially available that are flavored (quince, quince, and hazelnut) which are similar to homemade liqueurs but not labelled as nalewka. 

As a nice aside (or replacement for some) to brewing beer, this is a great way to experiment and make something to drink which you can call yours.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brewing + Saving Money

I've seen this topic come up repeatedly. Let me first state this: Barring equipment, you will probably save money per beer. Yes. But if you factor in equipment and amortize it, you'll soon realize that it will take quite a while (with nothing breaking/upgrading) to truly save money.

To really drive this point home, let's look some hypothetical numbers here.
Equipment cost, we'll say $500 as a good mid-range guesstimate.
If you 5 gallon batch of beer costs $25 in ingredients (low end) and you get (for ease of calculations sake, we'll say) 50 bottles.

So the goal is to "save" $500. Cost per beer at this rate is assumed 50 cents per beer. That's a thousand beers before you hit the amount of beers brewed to equal the initial investment in equipment. As long as you don't break anything. Or find a new toy. Or upgrade. Or brew bigger more expensive batches...

But this isn't actually saving anything. To quantify an amount saved you would need to show that you reduced expenditures on other things like buying beers. It would require considering so many variables to truly show any kind of savings that it is far easier to simply limit waste rather than try to save money. I would say the same is true of any hobby, frankly.

I'm not saying it can not be done. If your objective is purely to save money, it can be done. It just isn't pretty, and likely isn't as "optimal" for creating truly good beer. I'm not here to debate whether or not it can be done, I fully recognize that it can be done. I'm just not of the belief that it's the way to make the best beer possible. I will not debate this matter, as it is a matter of opinion more than fact as taste is subjective. But that is how I see it.

Now that said, there is a significant difference between not saving money, and wasting money. Some examples of waste that come to mind:

1) Buying a kettle that is simply too small.

I kinda did that, but because of my friend Bret and his wanting a mash tun cooler along with a deal from NorthernBrewer.com the purchase of a larger kettle is no longer necessary. My current 9gal kettle is sufficient for a HLT and BK (Hot Liquor Tank, fancy way to say pot that hold water as it heats. BK = Boil kettle) as I do five gallon batches. Saved money by not buying a bigger kettle at this point and instead investing into a cooler mash tun with Bret. Hazzah!

But this is one of the biggest things I've seen personally. People get into homebrewing, and they get some equipment. Maybe a 5 gallon pot, because for extract partial boil recipes, you don't need bigger. But then you want to do a full boil at 5gals? Nope. Gonna need bigger. So maybe you get a 7gal. Cool. Then you want to do BIAB? Sorry, gonna need more room for the grain! See how that keeps adding up?

There is nothing wrong with getting a bigger kettle to start. Frankly, if you're getting into the hobby you really really should invest in a 10gal kettle at least. Go for 15 if you have any inkling about doing BIAB in the future (or if you're going to start that way).

The cost difference between a 9gal and 15gal kettle can be as little as $20. Don't skimp on something like this, especially if you would like to brew "big" (high ABV) beers all grain.

2) Reusing yeast.

This is a huge one in my personal opinion. It's a very simple concept, and while a lot of people do this, not a lot of people start off aware that they can do it and how simple it is to do.

I could do my own write up of this, but there is no need. Brulosophy yeast harvesting method.

Yeast will cost anywhere from $2.99 to $7 (or more)  per batch. Not a lot, right? But if you could reduce that... why wouldn't you?

Consider this: Cost of ~12lbs of grain, say $21 (assuming buying per batch, not bulk). Plus hops, probably another $3-4 depending on style/hoppiness (easily more than $3-4 but I'm not a hop head so I stick to that) so you're at say $25. Then yeast. If you spend $7 on the yeast, you're at $32 for the batch instead of $25. This is a significant expenditure.

I'm guilty of not doing this due to laziness. I've seen the light, and this problem is one of the past for me personally. Is it for you? Because it should be a problem of the past. It's too easy not to do, and the savings are 100% real. You don't need fancy equipment, you can do a starter however you want to do it. With or without stir plate, etc.

3) Buying empty bottles.

Seriously, there are many, many easy ways to avoid doing this. I admit I did it when I started out, and I don't regret it. I needed bottles at the time and hadn't yet sorted out where my pipeline would come from.

Do you have friends that drink beer? Then you have an immediate source for bottles. Have them save the bottles for you and pick them up as is convenient.

In my case, my brother and one of our good friends pooled bottles for me. Now I have ~200 bottles that I plan to have all full in the near future. At least for a while. Those bottles cost me precisely nothing, unless you count giving my brother and friends beer in exchange for their work. Which I don't count, because those bottles also find their way back to me.

If you don't have friends that drink beer, or for some reason don't feel like talking to local bartenders about holding bottles for you to pick up (another oft cited resource that people forget about), you can also check out recycling centers. Often very cheap bottles to be had there.

The final (and for some, most appealing) option is also the simplest. Buy bottles with beer already in them. I bought 12 packs of this craft beer "sampler pack" from Trader Joes a couple times. The beer itself was pretty tasty, though nothing I'd consider remarkable. But it was $9.99 for a 12 pack of bottles that I could also drink the beer out of before using.

Just remember to get the pry off, not the twist off.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember this simple fact: This is a hobby.

The definition of the word is "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure." If you enjoy it, then enjoy it. Everyone has their hobbies. Some people buy clothes, shoes, and makeup because they enjoy it rather than need it, and that would count as a hobby. Others work on their vehicles, some spoil their pets. Some do anything at all on this list, and that shits just crazy. But if it's something they do regularly in their leisure time and enjoy it, it counts. So as long as you can balance your hobby and your daily life and you don't end up overextending financially for the sake of any hobby, just enjoy it for what it is. A hobby.

Friday, July 11, 2014

DIY(ish) Stir Plate.

I really wish I had done this sooner. I got lazy on it, and for some reason convinced myself it would probably be more difficult, etc etc...

Well it isn't hard. In fact, I did it the lazy way. You may be saying "can't be lazy enough for me." Yeah, you're wrong. Here, let me outline the process.

Step 1: Have an amazon account and Prime.
Step 2: Acquire items to assemble. Fan. Flask. Magnets! (you only need two, but I like magnets). Stir bar. Box. - Edit 7/15 @12:03pm: Looks like the box is gone. Just get something of similar dimensions. Mine was 4.7" x 4.7" x 2.2" high. Could be smaller all around but I like this size, easy to work with.

Update 7-12 @3:20pm: The fan is the essential part of this build. Because it is already wired to be powered via USB and has a speed control on it, there is absolutely no wiring to be done. All other parts can be done however you want to, but the fan is the key point to making this DIY as stupidly simple as possible.

Step 3: Assembly. I'm serious when I say this is stupid easy.

The above is it. I have a dremel so I put a hole in the right side near the front to pull the cords through. The speed control I had to cut free from its enclosure, but that was straightforward enough and isn't necessary. You could leave it alone if you want and just not fasten the top to the box so you can easily pop it off since once you dial in the speed, adjusting it isn't very necessary. I used some packing materials I had sitting around to hold the fan still. If you don't, you'll soon realize you need to. Cardboard box I cut up and folded under there as well to raise it up just a tad, though I'm not convinced this is necessary I'm too lazy to remove it since it's all working now.

The single hardest part of this was getting the magnets lined up properly to get it to spin. This is trial and error, but it's not hard.

In all, what you'll need are the materials (or close/equivalent) to the ones in step 2. A way to punch a hole in one side of the box (got a drill?), and misc. packing materials or hell, paper would probably work if wadded up and packed in there to keep the fan from moving. That's it. No wiring to mess with.

This comes out to a bit more expensive than most of the "true DIY" ones that require using a phone charger to power a computer case fan, etc etc. However, it is still considerably cheaper than buying a stir plate pre-made, is (I think) idiot proof (I did it!) and it works.

Quick note on the materials I linked to. The prices fluctuate, and appear to be all higher than what I paid. My total came out to around $38 not including the flask. You can probably source the materials cheaper than that, I just went with the "I want to do this now" mentality when I finally decided to do it. In the end, it came out cheaper than the Stir Starter and is essentially the same exact thing. Plus you get to tinker and make it work yourself, which I personally enjoy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fermenter's Favorite from NorthernBrewer

I'm back! This time with a review of the Fermenter’s Favorites Essential All-Grain Brewing Starter Kit-10 Gallon from Northern Brewer

My buddy Bret decided he wanted a mash tun cooler with false bottom, etc etc. But the costs of such a beast were... well, high.
To piece one together out in Poland it'd certainly run him over $100, and this kit comes with two for $200. Well, he doesn't need two! Who does he know that could use one? Hmmm...

So long story short, I waited on it a tad and he waited for a deal to pop up. Sure enough, I'm gettin mine for about $50 and he's in for less than it'd cost to make in Poland. I'll arrange to ship him his, and I get an awesome cooler.

First up, unpacking!

As you can see, two big (purpose built) 11.7gal coolers. The plastic spigot/valve set is inside the cooler in a plastic baggie, which I'll probably set aside and forget about forever. No big deal. In the box balanced between the two there is a false bottom, tubing, couple weldless valve/spigot kits and some misc. other stuff listed on their site. The important thing is, it's all definitely there.

Boxes are fun!

Ayva decided the box is her toy. We'll see how long it holds up to her creative abuse of boxes.

Ok. So the real important part of this as far as the initial setup is the valve, bulkhead, spigot setup. The opening in the cooler is perfect, this thing fits like a glove.

Little teflon tape (provided in the kit) on the threads, put the spigot on, insert in cooler and finish the install from the inside of the cooler. Cool. I thought "hey that was easy. Probably too easy. Let's take it outside and see!"

Well, it was incredibly easy. But not in a bad way at all, as there were zero leaks.

With the leak test so rapidly taken care of, I was able to progress right on to the mash.

This is where the only complaint I have comes in. While the strike water and initial mash temps were 100% where I wanted (166 strike to 156 initial mash temp) it was down at 152 after an hour in. A four degree drop. I had less drop using blankets over my kettle! But I don't really blame the cooler entirely. I had a lot of dead space, and the absolute only place I felt any heat coming off it was the lid. The sides were cold to the touch throughout. The lid is not insulated, but it does screw down. The solution then is fairly straight forward: Insulate the lid. I shall, and I believe this will fix the problem. I'll certainly update next time on that one.

All 'n all, this cooler is an amazing value and frankly made my brew day much more enjoyable. At $200 if you're looking to get into 3 vessel all grain brewing, it is a steal. If $200 is a bit steep, maybe hold out for the next sale. Seriously. These are well made purpose built coolers that may need a bit of insulating in the lid, or just some foil over the mash to reduce the dead space issue. Or just brew more beer to fill up the dead space. Ultimately that one problem is fairly insignificant considering other options, the ease of the DIY fix and the amazingly convenient and easy to assemble product you receive.

Using my five star rating system:
Ease of use/assembly: 5
Temperature stability: 4.5
Awesomeness: 5
Value: 5.

Update 7/14/14: Pre-heated the cooler this time, as well as added a layer of foil over the mash to take care of the dead space. Problem solved. Temp dropped approximately 1F over the course of an hour, which is perfectly acceptable far as I'm concerned.

Updated rating:
Ease of use/assembly: 5
Temperature stability: 5
Awesomeness: 5
Value: 5.

I would highly recommend this setup. Especially if you've got a friend that brews and you can go in on it together. Can't go wrong.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Red Wheat Citrus Bomb - Process Pictures.

My birthday was on June 4th. I'm not really big into birthday celebrations, but it was a pretty convenient excuse to brew beer! I decided I wanted to brew something perhaps a little unusual, and my friend Bret had an interesting idea involving beets to color a beer. The guy at the LHBS certainly thought it was unusual anyway.


Approximately 9lbs White Wheat (in the brown bag, approx. because it hit 9lbs and added a little more)

.5oz Galena @60min
1oz Citra @10min
1oz Citra @5min
1oz Citra @0min

5 Oranges, 4 Lemons, 2 Grapefruits zested and added @5mins.


Beet juice. Took two red beets, sliced 'em up and put them in the blender with ~4 cups of water. Blended 'em up, strained out the solids and that's what was left.



End mash

At the end of the mash. I forgot to mash out (how?! Oh well. This is supposed to be an easy drinker anyway) but at the end of the mash it was at 151, started at 154. Acceptable enough for me.

Sparged with 1.5gals and hit volume at 6.5gals pre-boil volume almost exactly. The gravity came out to 1.035 after temperature adjustment. Looks good for dilution via boiloff to ~1.042ish.

Galena bittering addition

My friend Dain adding .5oz Galena at the start of the boil. Don't forget to stir!


1oz Citra pellets for the 10min addition. Also added the immersion chiller and a whirlfloc tablet at this point as well. Whirlfloc helps to clump together the haze causing proteins and such in the finished product. Love it.

Ayva & Dain

My daughter Ayva being cute/threatening with a fork. Dain not sure whats going on. Or maybe checking the scale. Either way works.


1oz Citra pellets for the 5min addition plus all the zest.

Chill time

Forgot to take a picture for the flameout addition. We added another 1oz Citra at flameout, and then let it sit for about 10 minutes while we had some pie.

The immersion chiller was sitting in there for a good 10mins or so, sanitizes it so that when the wort comes down from boiling it won't introduce any nasties.

The colors duke!

Dat color! It's important to note that there was some trub mixed in, and that makes it appear brighter because the trub (hot/cold break and hop matter) is generally light in color. Interesting result there, but the next picture shows the nearly finished product, and an awesome color.

Hydrometer sample
Took this picture yesterday (6/16) when I checked gravity (~1.010, it's done). Gonna bottle it up tomorrow (6/18). Will certainly followup once carbonated.

The glass next to it is my Caribou Slobber clone (took the Caribou Slobber All Grain recipe and modified it based on what was available immediately here). Also delicious.