Friday, September 30, 2011

Kegerator 3: The Thermostat

I had a second keg in my apartment for over a week and one night I was fed up; fed up that a stupid plastic thermostat controller was in my way. The problem was no longer a lack of tools, it was no longer a lack of instructions, it was a damn probe too firmly stuck into the wall of my fridge and my fear of breaking it.

If you purchase this fridge as I did you'll immediately notice that both of your kegs will not fit into it because of the thermostat. The thermostat is held on by 2 screws one at the front which you can see, the other in the back under the light cover. As with any electrical work I would advise disconnecting the power; nothing ruins your day like being electrocuted. This may not keep you entirely safe but it is a start. Remove the screws and pull out the unit to reveal a bundle of wires and a thermostat. The thermostat is connected to the temperature probe embedded in the wall of the fridge. This is where my problems started and ended. If you ruin that probe you'll need a 60-90 dollar external thermostat. The unit can be bent out of the way easily enough and secured with tap or as I did, a rubber tether. I also taped over the wires and the hole with electrical tape hoping to keep everything contained.

(read more after the break)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Citrus Citra Light India Pale Ale

I'm brewing this as a 1 gallon all-grain IPA experiment. My concept is a beer with hops that lend the perception of citrus and actual citrus peel to accentuate and amplify that character.

I've formulated my IPAs with this formula from an article I read by Vinnie from Russian River:
90% Organic 2 Row Pale
5% Cara Pils
5% Crystal Malt (varying color) (5% max)

For this brew my goal was to pick hops with a pronounced citrus flavor: Citra hops were an obvious choice, Sorachi Ace allegedly has lemony characteristics, and Centennial has a citrus/flower reputation. Other hops exist with citrus/berry/pine flavors but I wanted to go with as much pure citrus flavor as I could to avoid muddling the citrus focus. At my LHBS they had a few dried spices that will work well with my concept: sweet orange peel, lemon peel and lime peel.

(read more after the break)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Making a Stir Plate

Sure I could buy a cheap stir plate for 40 dollars. It would probably work, look alright, and quietly serve me for years to come, but I think I can do better. I am not an electronics expert, but I don't have to be for these simple DIY projects. What I want my stir plate to have: a simple on off switch, a radial controller for stir speed, and the ability to stir 1-5 liter starters. This could all be achieved in my opinion for less than 40 dollars.

To start I needed find a mechanism for spinning and after consulting the internet I decided that a case fan out of my old computer was the perfect device. Once I removed it from my old case and stripped off the molex connector. I identified the power cables while it was connected to the molex; the grounds on a molex connector are on the inside. Before investing in any of the other components I wanted to make sure that I had a working system so I attached my recycled  12v power supply to the fan and tested it; this created a circuit at full power.

(read more after the break)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

American Lambic: Update

With my second Lambic out of primary and into secondary I wanted to share my thoughts. 

First Brewing: (Right) It turned out a light shade of yellowish red, probably from scorching the malt extract a bit. I fermented it out with the ardennes strain to give it a hint of Belgian esters before I let the microbes do their work on the remaining sugars. When I transferred it to secondary I tasted the fermented wort. It was bready, with high esters and phenols from the Belgian strain. It was unmistakably complex in that Belgian sense. My girlfriend tried it as well, she was sad I was going to 'ruin' it with sour bugs. 

Second Brewing: (Left) turned out a bit lighter, I did not taste this batch because I was in a hurry, everything looks like it is going well as of 9/18/10. The oak is somewhere on the bottom now as it had become waterlogged and sank from sight, hopefully it's imparting oaky flavors and absorbing bugs as you read this.

These brews were simple enough to do as extract brews. No special care was taken other than normal sanitation procedures when moving it into secondary. Oak Spirals were added after boiling it for 15 minutes to kill anything living on the surface of the oak. When the time came to secondary the souring agents were added from their wyeast pouches.

(read more after the break)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Carbonation Tabs

What are they? Do they work? What brand to use?
I asked all of those questions and decided to find out for myself what worked.

Coopers Carbonation Drops

A regular sugar drop that is translucent and I'd say off white. It's a large sugar crystal to be sure. The ingredients list glucose as the priming agent. One drop is listed as sufficient to carbonate a 12 oz, and two drops sufficient for a 22 oz. The internet has reported fair to good results with this product. The main comments/complaints were that it did or did not work; on a product like this I tend to blame user error. I had an easier time getting these into bottles because it was only one drop to spoon in.

Brewers Best Conditioning Tabs

A small opaque white drop that is about the size of a skittle. The priming agents are dextrose, dry malt extract, and heading powder. Three to Five drops are the recommended range for a 12 oz bottle, no conversion is provided for a 22 oz bottle but one could surmise 6-10 depending. I found that 3 drops were too little, for average carbonation. I preferred to have 5 or 6 in a 12 oz bottle. I have made both full and part batches with this product, and I have seen good results. I have not experienced what I considered an off flavor as a result of using them. The internet has reported mixed results with this product ranging from: worked great, to didn't work at all because of no carbonation, floaties, and/or off flavors. I think if you have a good process, use really clean sanitary bottles, and good sanitation you'll be fine.

(read more after the jump)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Online Brew Supply Stores

I love shopping online; because of where I live in west michigan I often have to drive considerable distances to find anything. With the cost of gas often exceeding the cost of shipping and the competitive pricing of online stores it just makes sense to order online. I primarily use three online stores, each store has it's perks and draw backs, and no one store is perfect.

Midwest Brewing Supply
This is my go to website for ordering brewing equipment. They have a great selection, prompt shipping, and take care or pack items well. A good selection of ingredients for when I know what I want and can't find it at my LHBS(local home brew shop). They have an expansive selection of wine, and beer making equipment and ingrediants; they have most of everything I need. The website could function better, it could be faster, and the whole process could be sleeker. I was nervous the first time I bought from them because the website looked shotty; my fears were unfounded.

Northern Brewer
This is the site I always price check midwest against. The website is well made, and they feature 7.99 shipping on any sized order, excluding large heavy items(like glass carboys). I find the prices on ingredients to be competitive, and when I'm not ordering a lot the cheaper shipping option can save me money. On the whole the prices are a bit higher then midwest brewing, but the shipping makes it competitive. The shopping experience is also a bit easier because of the webpage design and overall attention to detail.

Rebel Brewer
This is also a good store, the prices are competitive. They are better on some products and worse on others and stock a few odds and ends I don't see other places. Typically I'll go here when the other two places and my local home brew shop are out of a type of hop I want to brew with. The website is functional and I would put it right along side midwest in terms of ease of navigation. I've had no problems with them in terms of shipping promptly or my package arriving intact.

I'd recommend all three stores to my friends, I've had nothing but good experiences.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wet Hopped IPA

It is my desire to start to brew darker beers and scale back production of my larger batches to allow me the opportunity to fine tune my recipes on smaller batches. As with everything else there is an opportunity cost to brewing one beer over another. This opportunity cost can manifest itself in monetary costs, but it can also manifest itself in calories. Beer has calories and so I can only drink so much over time without additional exercise or caloric reductions. I wanted to brew a harvest wet hop beer, and I wanted to brew a DIPA so I combine the two desires into one and brewed this beer. I will not be brewing a porter for winter(at least until after the new year) because of this. I'll also have a pale ale, a Belgian single, and now a DIPA on tap. The once a year opportunity to brew something special was just too much for me to ignore at the time. The Baltic porter will have to wait; opportunity costs.

I'll need a new keg to put this in and fortunately the day wet hops were on sale was also Siciliano's Home Brew Sale, and free hot dog day. I've wanted a 3 gallon keg for smaller and imperial batches but never felt like I was getting a good deal until it went on sale. If the internet is to be believed a 3 gallon keg will fit behind my existing kegs on the back shelf with the CO2 tank in my kegerator.

Fresh Hops are less potent then dried hops, as such 3-5 times more fresh hops are required than dry hops in a recipe. The desired effects of fresh hops come from the "volatile compounds" that are driven off in the drying process, as such don't waste these on bittering additions. This appears to be the internet consensus but trying things for yourself is the only way to truly know. I want to brew one fresh hopped double pale ale so I'm going with this advice and bittering with dried pellets. In addition I am going to work in a bit more of Vinnie's IPA advice and attempt to use corn sugar to bring my FG down to size. Also after losing many gallons of  wort in the to hop trub I am going to brew a bit of extra wort to make sure I get 3 gallons. I'll be keg hopping with wet hops in a hop bag as well.

(read more after the break)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

American Black Ale (Simcoe) Review

American Black Ale (Simcoe) Review
Appearance: Dark and rich; the head is as tall as the beer. After a few minutes it melts into the beer leaving a thin but perfectly white layer.

Aroma: Roasted and piney, the simcoe worked, and is quite pungent. The roasted note seems a touch out of place with the citrus and pine but it's a new experience.

Flavor: Good, but the touch of metal from the porter is present, not as pronounced, but I think the hops are dominating it. It starts hoppy and melts into a roasted metallic mess. the roasted metallic flavor lingers around my mouth for minutes.

Mouth: Nice, coating, the mouth feel could be thinner, I really need to start taking detailed measurements

Overall: I think it is the water, I have 2 beers in primary with all natural spring water from Meijer's natural springs high in the Fredrick Meijer mountains. I may redo the simcoe one after the other two turn out. Otherwise I may go back to formula.

Rating: if I paid for this I'd rate it a D/D+, The rating would have been a lot higher without the metallic twang of Saint Joseph city water.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cinnamon Treacle Old Ale

The signature flavor of an old ale is treacle. Treacle is "uncrystallised syrup produced in refining sugar", and has a "distinctively strong flavor, slightly bitter, and a richer color than golden syrup".

To fit this beer to style I wanted a highly apparent malt profile with a good complexity; I wanted the Maris Otter to contribute to a nutty English base, and the caramel malt to add a passive caramel flavor. I wanted to add treacle to add a traditional flavor. I split the treacle additions between golden and dark to test the flavors imparted by treacle in a one gallon batch. I want a balanced malty-sweet flavor so I went with around 50 IBU to get a bitterness ratio of approximately 0.75. I normally use Nottingham yeast from Dan-star for English ales, but for this beer I wanted to use Windsor for a profile with more esters. It looks like it will finish with a sweet character at 1.015. I plan to add cinnamon to accent the flavors involved; if golden syrup and dark treacle add a treacle tart flavor to the beer it might mesh well. Optionally I might add a touch of port aged oak cubes for a subtle oaked/fruit wine flavor layered in, or maybe rye whiskey for a spicy oak flavor.

(read more after the jump)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hops, whole vs pellet

If you read my post on the STL brown or the Black IPA you'll notice that whole hops annoy me. Pellet hops also annoy me, but for different reasons. There is no perfect solution to this problem.

The Problems with Hops:

Whole hops: clog my siphon, absorb lots of wort, float forever, but work better for dry hopping than pellets. Allegedly they impart less grassy-ness over time.

Pellet hops:  will clog all manner of filters, are hard to remove from the wort, are difficult to clean when dried onto the inside of a better bottle, and can impart a grassy flavor when beer is over exposed to remnants of the pellets. They do have the upside of increased utilization.

(read more after the break)

Monday, September 12, 2011

American/Double Chocolate Oak Vanilla Bourbon Stout

This is recipe for a Double/American Stout. I would say that this style along with Russian Imperial Stouts are by far my favorite. I'm going to call this beer and all subsequent Double/American/Imperial Stouts 'Unconquered' until I've beaten the style.

I wanted a roasted & toasted chocolate stout, with chocolate flavors coming from adjuncts and grains, oak as a subtle layer, vanilla as an accent, and a touch of bourbon. My beer was massively inspired by a fine stout from The Bruery. Their extremely limited brewing of Chocolate Rain expanded my perception of the flavors beer could bring. My perception of the flavor was: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, roast, vanilla, and bourbon. I am sure the oaking added to the flavor I perceived as vanilla but I couldn't taste the wood tannins.

(Read more after the break)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Some Reviews of Past Brews

STL Brown Town Ale:
Appearance: Brown and over carbonated. Tall billowing head, overly thin brown/reddish color

Smell: effervescent hops-bomb. The scent was one of citrus passion fruit, and citrus grape fruit. Dominant hop nose; what malts? no malt here.

Taste: the sweet malt provided a nice back bone for for the hops flavor which wasn't nearly as dominant as it was in the nose, I may back some of the additions of hops or accept a bit higher ibu and add more flavor hops.

Mouth Feel: Thin, over carbonated

Thoughts: I told Kyle what volume of sugar to use for a 5 gallon batch, we ended up with about 2.5 gallons of beer post boil, post kettle hops, and post dry hops. So it was 2x carbonated, oops. Totally my bad, but it was still a good beer. Even over carbonated once we bled off some CO2 it was better than some commercial hoppy browns I've had.

(read more after the break)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Smoked, Oaked, and Mapled, a Porter

This beer started within seconds of smelling the cherry wood smoked malt from Briess. This malt hadn't been at my local home brew store before, but this day was different. The tub of grain almost opened itself for me to reveal its hidden secret; an unbelievable aroma permeated the room as if I was standing inside of a smoker. The smells of cherry wood, and cherry smoke instantly reminded me of carpentry, grilling, and being a man; this malt was all of that. Briess recommends that this malt can comprise up to 60% of the grist in the mash for darker styles of beers. I immediately began formulating a recipe in my head. The recipe would be for a bark colored beer with a billowing head rising from the glass as a portion of crystal malts uninhibited by its modest alcohol content gives the beer body and head retention. A traditionally flavored porter with a few twists as twisted as the surprise that was waiting for me inside that tub of malt.

To cut the smoked base malt I wanted to use maris otter for a more traditional English porter flavor and nuttier base. To layer in other toasted flavors I decided to add Victory, Special Roast, Black Patent, and Crystal 120 malts to emphasize the woody nature of this beer. Oak aging is appropriate for the style and will add another dimension to the beer. I also resolved to integrate maple syrup, for the sweetness, as well as the earthy flavor. Hopping a beer like this is an interesting challenge because the sweetness from the malt could easily get out of control but certain hop flavors would be out of place among the sweet malty tones and smoke. I've selected nugget because I believe it to have smooth earthy bittering that helps malts come forward as the dominant flavor.

(read more after the break)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kegging (part 2)

What's next? Cleaning and loading a keg; duh. This could be as straight forward as cleaning a keg with hot hot water, sanitizing, and racking your beer into the keg. I don't roll like that. If I am going to be kegging I am going to make the full effort to keep oxygen out of my beer.  I am going to do everything I can to achieve that goal.

Keg cleaning
To clean the kegs I opened them and inspected them, as anticipated they'd been cleaned by Midwest. Their first time care instructions suggested rinsing them with boiling water to remove caustic residue from the cleaning agent they use to remove the soda. After that I filled each keg with PBW and 100 degree water and let them have a good soak, turning them over after a few hours to ensure all parts got cleansed. Then after pumping that through the taps I mixed up some Star San in each keg, flipping again after a few hours, and pumping the Star San out through the taps. This gave me a sanitized environment that was pressurized with CO2.

Keg Filling

(DISCLAIMER: Pressurizing a vessel can be extremely dangerous, even life threatening (think exploding glass carboy). Using this method should be done at your own risk, with safty glasses, and all other proper precautions.)

I didn't invent this setup, but I do use it. The idea is that you put an air lock on the gas tap for the keg, preventing air from re entering the keg, then you purge the line with CO2, and use pressure to push the beer from the carboy into the keg. This purges most of the oxygen from the whole system and hopefully preserves the hop flavor better. I couldn't find a prefabricated system so I had to make my own. I purchased 2 soft rubber carboy caps, a racking cane, 4 feet of 3/8 inch ID hosing, several hose clamps, 1 gas ball lock keg coupler, 1 liquid ball lock keg coupler, and an air lock. It assembles like the picture, The CO2 goes in through the small hole in the carboy cap, the racking cane goes in the big one, the liquid goes into the liquid connection, and the gas excapes out through the gas connect. You have to be careful not to suck up crap with the racking cane because that's all going into your keg. I ended up leaving a bit of beer I might have siphoned and figured would settle out in the bottle. This could have been avoided by secondary fermentation; with additional crap settled out it'd go even smoother. To attach 1/4 keg hardware to a 3/8 inch tube I simply slid 1/4 ID 3/8 OD tube inside of my 3/8 ID tube. (I'll amend this with real pictures after the next time I do it. I didn't have a helper so no action photos were taken.) I dialed my regularor so that it was barely on. It takes very low pressure to push the beer out of the carboy. When showing my girlfriend the concept I could do it with my lungs, so it must not be alot of psi. I would not clamp any connections on the rubber carboy cap, or clamp the cap to the carboy. The only connections I clamped were on the keg hardware and to keep the air lock in the hose.

This is my new mini fridge loaded with 1 keg. All modifications will be detailed in an upcoming post about making this fridge into a kegerator including all parts, processes, and unavoidable errors.

Friday, September 2, 2011

STL Brown or The Red That Wasn't

I had a vision of a deep amber ale, red hues on an amber base; a tame appearance but surprising flavors. I copied Jamil's recipe for Evil Twin, tweaked it to my liking and modified the hop schedule to include citra, a whole lot of citra.

The miss adventures of this beer started way before brewing. When we purchased ingredients they didn't have pale chocolate malt, no problem 1/3 the chocolate malt should have done. We had to buy malt in individual bags of 1,5, or 10 pounds. They were nice enough to reseal the bags we only needed ounces of. Once all of the ingredients were measured out we set about milling our grain, only after struggling for about 10 minutes did the store clerk tell us the mill was broken, and that we were going to have to hand grind the grain with a rolling pin and some gumption. So we packaged all the malt in the provided 1 thin cheap garbage bag they had for lining the bucket. once we got to the car the inevitable bag rupture happened and so we made the most of it, put the plastic bag inside of a paper bag and rolled home.

Kyle in a well meaning effort began opening the bags of grain and adding them instead of going with the premeasured grain. After I finished measuring out the hops by sight because kyle didn't have a scale and I didn't think to bring mine, I caught his error and adjusted the recipe. This made it solidly into the brown ale category by virtue of SRM. American Brown Ale w/ west coast hops I guess.

(read more after the jump)