Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My Summer Time Brew Days

A typical brew day lasts around 4 hours which breaks down something like this:

  • Heat mash water and crush grain- 20 minutes-ish
  • Mash 1 hour
  • 30 minutes left in mash start heating sparge water
  • Mash out - 10 minutes.
  • Vorlauf and sparge - about 15 minutes
  • Heat to boil and boil + clean mash tun - 75 minutes
  • Chill 20-30 minutes
  • Transfer, pitch and cleanup - 15 minutes
Watch a lot of old BrewingTV episodes and many other homebrewing video podcasts during this entire process and drink anything on tap.

That's pretty typical for early spring, winter and late fall in N.Y. I spend a lot of time waiting for things to happen as many homebrewers do. I usually drink too much, listen to music, or watch TV.

The late spring, summer and early fall are a different story. I manage my brew days much more efficiently when the weather is good. Because while we all love brewing, it shouldn't be a reason to neglect our other responsibilities. This is a typical summertime brew day.

  • Heat mash water and crush grain - 20 minutes
  • Mash 1 hour
Now while the grains are mashing I do one of several things.

  • Weed wack and mow my lawn
  • Small home repairs ( I patched the roof of my barn last time, cleaned my lawn furniture the time before that)
  • Care for my hops
  • Exercise
  • Clean my motorcycle/cars
  • etc....
You get the idea. Mashing is no longer a time for twiddling my thumbs, watching football or getting drunk. It's time I can use to make sure I'm getting things done.

The same goes for the boil. I set my timers for hop additions on my phone and I do chores until that timer goes off, make my hop drop, then set my next timer and continue my chores. I'm still around in case something were to happen but I'm not wasting time.

 My homebrew club members have often asked how I find time to brew as often as I do, well this is part of the trick. If my wife has plans for us on Sunday I don't skip brewing on Saturday to get my chores done, I weave brewing and chores together.

While this does make for somewhat of an exhausting day it hasn't killed me yet and I feel like I accomplished something at the end of the day. Plus I have 5-10 gallons of beer to show for it.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

New Mash Tun = Better Efficiency

I'm not sure what about my new mash tun is responsible for delivering better efficiency but I expect it just holds temp much better than my cooler mash tun did, especially since the cooler was so warped.

When I ran into some extra cash in March this year I used a small portion to buy a Chapman 15 gallon stainless insulated mash tun.

Since then I've had to adjust all my recipes for improved efficiency. I went from 70% to 76% efficiency and this is the only piece in my setup that has changed. I even get that with 11 gallon batches.

I have noticed that as long as the temperature outside is above freezing I don't lose even 1 degree with this tun. If it's quite cold out (25F and less) I'll lose about 2 degrees in an hour, pretty damn good.

The features I absolutely love:

  1. This tun has a hanger for the lid that doubles as fixed position holder for the lid. I can't tell you how many times I knocked my old tun lid on the floor or had to go looking for it.
  2. Thermometer - I did not have a thermometer on my old tun so I had to open it up to check temps. This small addition is very convenient and I love it.
  3. Recalculation Port - Even with 11 gallon batches I was still picking up the hot liquor kettle and dumping it into the mash tun because holding the hose in place with a clamp always seemed to make a mess. Now I  use my pump with quick disconnects and I have one less risk point during my brew days. My back is also thanking me.
  4. Cleanup - It may seem silly but this tun is super easy to clean and doesn't stain like my old tun did. It has a lip on the bottom that's a nice grip for pouring soap and water out, just another small but nice feature.
  5. No leaks! I was constantly dealing with small valve port leaks on my cooler tun. Not once with this baby.
  6. It's stainless so it should be my last mash tun purchase. I have built 2 other mash tuns up to this point and I don't think I'll ever need another new tun.
The things I don't love:
  1. Price - While this was the most inexpensive insulated stainless tun I could find it was still $370. I could build 4-5 cooler tuns for that price.
Sorry, that's it. There are really no other negatives to this mash tun.

If you have some expendable cash and are in need of a new mash tun i would definately recommend this tun. I love mine.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Real Ale


Lately I've been on another low abv kick. I like to drink multiple beers, I'm not a 1 or 2 and done sort of guy. This causes a couple problems of course. One is inebriation, the other is weight gain. My average homebrew runs around 6-6.5% abv which can land around 250-300 calories a bottle. That's significant when you're drinking 4,5,6789 of them.

My experience with English Ales

The above has lead me to researching English ales, more specifically real ales. I've made plenty of porters, stouts and even English Barleywine but only one ESB in the past that turned out far too malty. So I made another attempt but this time an Ordinary Bitter. This was a pretty well balanced beer but it lacked the firm bitterness of the style. I think I did three things wrong.

  1. I used an even ratio of calcium chloride to sulfate with RO water. I should have used 3:1 sulfate to calcium chloride like I would for an American IPA
  2. I used an intentionally low BU:GU ratio because I'm not a huge fan of super bitter beers. I used .63 instead of .83. I'll adjust for this next time
  3. I used too much crystal malt. 7% c15 and 7% c55. I should have kept the total of both to less than 10%. In the future I plan to use 1 crystal malt, a darker variety, and keep it to 7% of the grist. I think that will help lean the balance toward bitterness.

The new recipe: Trimmed Down Bitter

Batch Size 5.5gal
OG = 1.032
ABV 3.3%
IBUs 27.6
SRM 9.8
BU:GU .864

  • 8.5 gal total RO water
  • 3/4 tsp gypsum (about 8g)
  • 1/4 tsp calcium chloride (about 3g)
  • 1/8 tsp epsom (about 1.5g)
  • 92% Thomas Fawcett floor malted maris otter
  • 7% Bairds British 135/165 crystal
  • 13.3 IBUs Challenger @ 60min
  • 10.3 IBUs EKG @ 25min
  • 3.9 IBUs EKG @ 5min
  • 2oz EKG @ flameout (in place of  cask hopping)
  • 1 pkg London Ale III
  1. Mash grains with 3 gallons of RO water and salt additions for 60 minutes
  2. Batch sparge / mash out with remaining water @ 170 for 10 minutes 
  3. vorlauf
  4. Slowly sparge into kettle. Should take about another 10 minutes to collect full volume. The 10 minute mash out and slow sparge improved efficiency for batch sparging.
  5. Boil for 60 mins, cool and transfer to fermenter, aerate, then pitch yeast.
The final method I'm going to use to improve and make my english ales more authentic is to cask them when I have an event I can share them and get rid of it quickly enough . So I spent way too much money on my homebrewing hobby and bought a pin cask.

Since I've never casked a beer, I brewed a porter to practice with before using it for my homebrew club's next meeting. Tonight I move the still fermenting porter into the cask. I checked it last night and it was about 75% through fermentation so it will go into the cask with finings and a fresh 200ml of wort to naturally carbonate it in the cask.

I'm also stealing this idea and building a cask jockey box this weekend. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Coconut Porter Dry Coconutting And Sample Tasting

I'm making a coconut porter. The base is a porter I've brewed several times now. I actually have the recipe locked and after 5 years of brewing it's only the third recipe I consider unchangeable. It's perfect for adjuncts because it's not too roasty or hoppy. It's english style, slightly chocolaty with very low esters so it's an easy drinker. I most recently used it for a vanilla porter and that turned out fantastic.

I've read several articles on the best way to add coconut to beer. I've also tasted a few samples and there seems to be a couple ways to make the flavor really stand out. One is to use a shit-ton of coconut, like 2lbs/gallon. That seems extreme. Another I gathered from tasting and that's to use a tincture or spirits barrel aging to enhance the flavor. The best coconut beer I ever had was aged in a rum barrel. I had that side by side with the version not aged it the barrel and it was like night and day.

Some people said to lace it through the entire brewing process (mash, boil, secondary), others say to roast the coconut and still others say to use sweetened coconut. With all this advice there's only one way to find out what really works and that's through trial and error. Here is what I did and some partial results. I'll be sure to post final tasting notes on this beer.

I brewed my porter per my normal process and added 1lb of unsweetened organic finely shredded coconut at knock out. After 1 week of fermentation I roasted 3 lbs of coconut in the oven at 300F making sure to turn it frequently (about every 4-5 minutes) to make sure it wouldn't burn. I stuffed all of that into a sanitized hop bag (I don't think it would filter out well).

Before adding the dry roasted coconut into the completely fermented porter I drew a sample to see how the 1 lb at knock out affected the beer. Unfortunately it didn't seem to add any coconut to the beer. The sample tastes exactly how I remember this beer tasting after fermentation and before carbonation. Slightly chocolatey very smooth and delicious but no coconut. Next time I do this I'll triple the coconut at knock out, hopefully the dry roasted coconutting will add some of the flavor I'm looking for. It it's not to my satisfaction I have another 4 lbs of coconut and I'll continue with a second dry coconutting.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Tilt Hydrometer Formerly Brewometer Review Part 2

I wrote my first review of the Tilt about 7 weeks ago after my first brew with it. I've brewed about 6 beers since then so I think it's time to write the follow up and my final rating.

I now have 7 brews with the Tilt under my belt. I've calibrated it to the best of my ability without anymore extensive instructions than the Tilt Guide provides, which is none.

The Good

  1. It's simple. There's nothing diffult about Tilt. You sanitize it, install the app on a compatible device, copy the Google Docs sheet template, configure the app to use the template and away you go.
  2. It's clean and elegant. There's no charging ports or wires. It's a solid unit that has auto-on and auto-off. All you have to do is clean & santize then drop your carboy. You don't have to plug it in. You don't have to configure wifi on it. It's a solid smooth unit that's easy to wash.
  3. I just works. Not once have I had to reconnect it to the bluetooth device or fiddle with it because I dropped it in the Carboy and it's not showing in the app. Nope, it just works.
  4. It's relatively cheap at $120. The beerbug started at $250 or $300, it's now $200. No way I'm paying that to track a single fermenting beer. The Tilt is nearly half the price. You can buy multiples of differnt colors and track them all at the same time. Wicked!

The Bad

  1. At some point I'm going to have to change the batteries. Probably pretty soon because I brew so much. Not a huge negative but I'm sure it won't be fun.
  2. F.G. accuracy. No matter how many calibration points I enter into the Tilt i can't get it to match my glass hydrometer's F.G. The O.G. is spot on but F.G. needs correction, kind of like a refractometer but not as bad. It's usually only off by .002 SG, I can live with that.


By a fucking Tilt. Seriously, if you're considering a device that allows you to watch your beer ferment , this is the one to buy. Accurate temperature and gravity readings and ease of use sell me on this device. Not to mentions the stacking ability when you buy multiple colors. I haven't ordered my second Tilt yet but I will when there's room in the budget.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Simplifying Homebrewing - Grains

I recently purchased 12 - 1 gallon PET storage containers to hold my adjuncts and grains. I live quite a distance from the nearest homebrew supply store and since I'm not very good about planning my brew days I keep quite a few grains on hand. I thought 12 containers would be enough to hold the various bags of grain in my storage locker but I was just plain wrong. So now I'm going to attempt to outline what 12 grains I should have on hand that will allow me to brew the most variety of beers. I could just buy more containers but since I'm trying to be more budget conscious, and I have a limited amount of space I thought I would try this route.

Frequently Brewed Beers

I should probably start with a list of beers I know I brew repeatedly. That will help pick some of the grains to keep on hand.

  1. Panhead Supercharger Clone - About 2-4x/year.
  2. IPA 2x/year
  3. Hefe 2x/year
  4. Saison - 2x/year in the summer
  5. Brown Ale - 2-3x/year
  6. Porter - 2-3x/year
  7. Stout - 1-2x/year (Includes RIS)
  8. Barley Wine 1x/year
  9. Winter Warmer 1x/year
  10. Belgian Dark Strong 1x/year
  11. Munich Dunkel 1x/year
  12. Doppelbock 1x/year
  13. Sours 4x/year (Includes Kettle Soured)

Base Malt

I keep a 50lb bag of Briess 2-Row for my base malt but have found recently that I'm brewing a lot of English beers and I keep buying 10lb bags of Marris Otter. I'm contemplating a complete change to Marris Otter but it's going to mess with my brewing budget. 2-Row is $50, I think Marris Otter is more like $65 a bag.

Crystal Malts

I'm a huge fan of cherry and dark fruit flavors in my beers so I definately want Special B, British 135/165 and C120. The supercharger clone used c20 and honey malt so those are a must.

  1. Crystal 20
  2. Crystal 40 - Layering in Brown and amber ales
  3. Crystal 80 - Layering
  4. Crystal 120
  5. Crystal (british) 135/165
  6. Belgian Special B
Well there's half the containers just in crystal malts. After black malts there won't be much left. I could cut out the crystal 40 if I find I'm frequently missing something else but I think I can make this work.

Black Malts

My porter uses carafa II or midnight wheat, I like the wheat better. The stouts use chocolate and roast malt. If I include a black patent type malt I'm screwed for much else. I need a flaked barley for quite a few of these darker beers, especially if I ferment with a highly attenuative yeast it sort of rounds the beer out, so I'll leave off the black patent for now.
  1. Midnight Wheat or Carafa Special
  2. Chocolate Malt
  3. Roasted Barley

Other Malts

My stouts and porters also call for either flaked oats or flaked barley for some creaminess. If I have to choose just one I'll go with flaked barley, I think it adds a little more body with the creamy mouth feel.
  1. Honey Malt
  2. Flaked Barley
  3. Biscuit/Victory
Biscuit malt is good for layering in several types of beer. The munich dunkel, browns, porters and stouts all benefit from some biscuit malt. 

I left out wheat malt which I use quite frequently between the wheat beers and sours but those are beers I usually plan out a bit. They are seasonal like the Barleywine, BDS, Winter Warmer and Doppelbock.

I'm sure this list will change over time as my brewing tastes change, or I realize I missed something I use quite frequently.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Homebrewing Obsession

As with many people in this hobby homebrewing has become an obsession for me. When I'm not actually brewing I'm planning my next brew, shopping for ingredients, developing recipes, reading every book I can get my hands on, reading every blog I can find, and watching every video; even the corny tasting vids, or what I'm up to vids.

I had a long weekend this past weekend and I ended up brewing twice. That doesn't seem like a big deal but when you consider I started by brewing about 4x a year followed up by maybe every six weeks then once a month, twice a month until I'm pretty much brewing once every weekend now. I don't know why I do this, I end up giving a lot of beer away plus it's increased my own drinking quite a bit.

I mostly do it because I'm still experimenting. I'm still trying to find the magical hop combinations, get that 50 point stout or Belgian dark strong, and figure out what's working for a specific style of beer. I believed this is taking so long for me because I'm all over the place. I'm not brewing a single style until I nail it, I don't like drinking the same beer all the time so I'm always changing what I'm brewing. I don't see anything particularly wrong with that, in fact I think it's keeping me interested in this hobby.

This is not the first time I've brewed more than once on a weekend but this time had me thinking I either need another hobby or to create more projects around the house. The second brew day was on Sunday and I was just killing time until football started at 1PM. I had already made breakfast and cut/sauted vegetables and meat for a stew. That done I wondered what I was going to do until the Bills game, impromptu brew day!

My previous hobby (computers) was a complete obsession as well, so much so that it turned into college and my day job. That worked out pretty well for me and actually kept me so busy for years that I didn't need another hobby. Well that, owning/maintaining a home, and raising a child with my wife. Of course as with anything I got better and better at it until it wasn't occupying as much of my time and then came homebrewing :).

As I said above none of this is a problem until you realize how much money you're spending on the hobby. You always "need" some new piece of equipment or to replace one you've outgrown/broken. When you brew every week you spend a lot of money on ingredients and a lot of time brewing. I didn't realize just how much I was spending until put myself on a brewing budget. It's been about two months now and even with the fairly large $200/month limit I placed on myself I'm having a hard time keeping to it. I blew my entire November budget after planning through all of October for what I would need. I had bugs in one of my bags of grain so I "needed" new storage jars for the grains I keep in stock (my LHBS is 50 minutes away). I ordered 12 PET 1 gallon storage jars and with shipping those were $60. A bag to 2-Row was $50+tax. The rest was spent on grains for stouts and porters, yeast and hops, and it went quickly. Well I broke my last hydrometer while cleaning on my first brewday this weekend so I went without for the second brew and I'll continue to go without until my December budget. Not the worst thing, I know my system and my numbers are usually pretty close to estimated plus I have the Tilt which is spot on for the OG and usually only a point or two off on the FG.

So I looked back at my homebrew spending in the months prior to starting the budget and it was absolutely ridiculous. Anywhere from $200 to $600, in a month!!!! This year I built a new mash tun, bought a Hydra immersion chiller, 3 hydrometers, 2 new perlick faucets, new gas and beer lines, a 20lb co2 tank, 2 gauge pressure regulator, 5 new fermentation buckets, 5 homebrew books, 2 magazine subscriptions, went to HomebrewCon in Baltimore ($1500) and bought  several items for my homebrew club. I know I've missed some things too. I think this qualifies as obsessed spending.

To top all of this craziness off I write in this blog once or twice a week just because homebrewing is always on my mind. There's not too many reading this blog, if any, but I keep writing because it's a way to think about and review my homebrewing.

I remember I used to love reading for fun, it may be time to recapture the love of an old hobby that doesn't have me spending money as fast as I make it.