Archive for July, 2009

Anatomy of a brew day

Yesterday I took the wife and baby to the airport so they could spend a few days out east with Jamie’s parents. Perfect opportunity to do some brewing!I decided to take some pictures as I went. Obviously, there were a few things I wasn’t able to photograph while I was doing them, but here’s a general idea of how a brew session goes down.

Heating up water. This was heated to 160 degrees to mash in at around 150. I use a turkey fryer burner and propane tank. Much easier to deal with than stove top brewing!

While the water was heating, I ran downstairs and assembled the grain bill. 12 pounds total, so I grabbed the electric drill and my Barley Crusher and crushed the grains.

This particular beer is an English-style pale ale with added orange peel and coriander. I took one ounce of coriander seed and crushed it coarsely. Then I zested three large oranges. Smelled good! Then I measured out the four ounces of Cascade hops. The first ounce goes in while I collect the first runnings (called ‘first wort hopping’). The next three ounces will be added with 10, 5, and 1 minute left in the boil, respectively.

Once the strike water was heated, I mashed in. I poured the water into the mash tun (a fancy term for a vessel where you mash your grains), then added the grain. After some good stirring to make sure there’s no clumps of dry grain, I checked my temperatures and closed the lid. It usually takes around an hour for the conversion from starches to sugar. Once that was done, I collected the wort (unfermented beer). I had a few more gallons of water heating, which I used to rinse the grain and increase my boil volume. They call it sparging. Here’s what the pot looked like shortly before the boil.

After the 60 minute boil, it’s time to cool the wort. I use a copper coil immersion chiller, which hooks up to a garden hose. Usually, I can chill it down to yeast pitching temperature (less than 70 degrees) in around 15-20 minutes using around 25 gallons of water. I thought I’d try something different this time: take a small electric pump and put the input and output into a bucket filled with ice and a small amount of water. I wanted to see if I could chill it down to 70 without using a ton of water. It worked, but I needed to raid all the ice cube trays in the house!

Once that was done, it was time to pour the wort into the awaiting sanitized glass carboy for yeast pitching. As it is, the wort looks very dark and cloudy. As the fermentation does its thing, the beer will clear up as particles settle into the bottom, giving the beer a nice golden hue.

The target gravity for this beer (which tells us the amount of fermentables in the wort and can be used in conjunction with the final gravity taken after fermentation to determine alcohol content) was 1.060. Here’s a shot of the hydrometer, which not only gives us a view of the nice color of the brew, but if you look through that foam you’ll see that the target gravity was hit dead on! Almost done! Time to celebrate by pouring a homebrew.

After this, it’s time to pitch the yeast. Then I put the airlock on, put it down in the basement and wait. All in all, it was about a 4 1/2 hour brew day. Not bad! Primary fermentation on this beer should take about 10-14 days. From there, I’ll siphon it into a secondary fermentation tank where I will add another ounce of Cascade hops (called dry-hopping) to give it a nice aroma boost. From there, I’ll siphon it into an empty keg (which I don’t have right now!) and it’ll be ready to drink in a week. I’ll keep you updated! :)

Homebrew get together at Ed’s?

I don’t get out very much, and when I do I usually only go to Ed’s No Name Bar on Third and Franklin. Not only is Ed an old friend from way back (as well as a great guy), but the beer and music selections are wonderful. It’s my kind of place, basically. There’s always something great on tap that I’ve been meaning to try.

Last night I biked down with a couple bottles of homebrew (my Amarillo/Simcoe IPA and Centennial Blonde) for Ed to try, with the hopes of getting some tap handles for the kegerator (:D) and some honest feedback. There were only a couple of others in the place, so we all tasted both beers and the reception was positive. I’m always nervous when I hand out samples, especially since I’ve only been doing this for a short time.

Anyway, Ed offered to host a “homebrew night” every month starting next month. If all goes well, it’ll be the third Tuesday of the month (two weeks after his first Tuesday beer club tasting). I am excited! I’m eager to find out who else brews in town. He’s going to get the word out and probably put a blurb on his Facebook page for the bar. More details will follow. :)

Thanks, Ed!

Homebuilt kegerator project

Thought this would be a nice way to start off the homebrew part of the blog.
When I started kegging, it was obvious that I needed a nice-looking, effective way to serve my brew. Otherwise, why not just stick to bottling? My first kegerator was a $50 used Kenmore fridge I bought off Craigslist locally. It had a single tap going through the door, and could only fit one keg. One that fridge started having issues with keeping a stable temp, I shopped around for something new. I found this Danby brand new for $150 (with my wife’s blessing, of course!), and the tower kit I purchased with funds I received from selling some guitar pedals on Ebay. I had to RMA the first tower, since one of the faucet couplers was really bent up, but sent me a new one quickly. I then had to snip off the beer line connectors, which were made for commercial beer kegs, and replace them with connectors that screw into homebrew pin-lock disconnects. Once I had everything on hand, it was time to get to work!.

The first thing I did was remove the inside shelving on the door. This allowed me to get both kegs in the fridge with the c02 tank. Then I figured out that the cooling lines ran through the front of the fridge, so I marked the spot where I would drill with a 3″ hole saw. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked with the help of my Dremel. Once the hole was finished, I used aluminum ducting tape to seal it up and smooth it out.

I then had to drill the four holes for the mounting screws, and then it was time to run the beer lines through and re-attach the lamp/thermostat. Then I ran a couple gallons of sanitizer through each line just to be sure. Once everything was cleaned up and tightened down, I put the c02 tank on the back ledge, hooked up gas and beer lines, and fit everything in nice and snug.

A $20 drip tray, some glasses and it’s ready to go!

The whole project took about two hours from start to cleanup. Not bad!
The fridge stays a constant 42 degrees unless I tell it to, and the forward sealing faucets eliminate the problem of sticky taps, since I don’t pull pints from it every day. I’m very happy with it.