Thursday, February 28, 2013

General Homebrewing Equipment Recommendations

One of our readers left a comment on a recent post asking for equipment recommendations for new homebrewers.  I know this reader personally, as he attended the last all-grain training class I taught, and we discussed specifics off-line.  But, the core of his request remains an excellent post topic, as the variety of equipment options can be daunting to those just entering the hobby.  I have found some general maxims to keep in mind when considering homebrewing equipment that I hope others will find valuable.

The first, and arguably most important advice, is to carefully consider your purchases and "slow down."  You do not have to purchase ever possible piece of equipment right away.  New homebrewers can jump into the hobby with both feet and quickly spend a lot of money for little gain.  I would recommend that new homebrewers purchase the bare minimum of equipment at the beginning and then start to make beer, which is the end goal of this hobby.  Sure, if you know you want to go all-grain right away, do it.  But, by starting with the basics, new homebrewers can spend their money on ingredients and decide what they like about the hobby.  If they stick with it, then slowly upgrade things that can be effectively used in their process and their situation.  Following this maxim, equipment purchase decisions become more surgical in nature, and more effective.  Remember, people who have been homebrewing for a long time have also accumulated equipment over a long time.

Secondly, developing a process is of critical importance.  Arguably, it is more important to have a repeatable process that works in your environment, than to own all the latest gadgets.  Extract brewers with a solid process can make better beer than all grain brewers with varying temperature controls.  Get settled into a process and then upgrade one or two things at a time.  This more scientific method of equipment purchasing, allows the brewer to try things out and see if they actually work in that brewers process.  Overall, the process slowly changes over time, which allows the brewer to remain comfortable with it and for it to remain repeatable.  Adjustments can then be made that are not simply equipment related, but can be changes that save time, or increase control over critical values, focus on cleaning and sanitation, etc.

Third, when making equipment purchases, buy bigger than you need.  This maxim is particularly true of vessels that hold volumes of liquid (water, mash, wort, etc).  The increased size, to a point, provides increased flexibility, often for only a slightly higher cost.  For example, a new brewer could buy a cooler mash tun that is 5 gallons for around $25, while a 10 gallon version costs $45.  The 10-gallon cooler's capacity allows the user to make a normal 5-gallon batch, an imperial 5-gallon batch, or a normal strength 10-gallon batch.  The 5 gallon cooler only allows the brewer to make a normal 5 gallon batch.  The increased flexibility outweighs the increase in cost and the brewer can avoid the mistake I made by purchasing the smaller one, then a year later buying the bigger version.  The same sort of logic applies to boil kettles, conical fermenters, hot liquor tanks, etc.  As always, use common sense because purchasing a 55-gallon kettle when you would never use that volume is a waste of money.

Finally, exposure to new ideas and methods is positive.  I love attending group brew sessions, despite having to haul my equipment outside of the house.  I find the different ways other brewers tackle problems fascinating and have adapted the methods of others to my process numerous times.  Information comes from a wide variety of sources, including podcasts, books, magazine articles (BYO and Zymurgy are great), classes and more.  Homebrewing clubs are fantastic sounding boards for ideas and seeing what other homebrewers are doing.  When examining this information, do not accept it wholesale, but evaluate it to see if it fits well with your process and the knowledge you have accumulated.  If it fits, give it a try and see what happens.

Most importantly, remember homebrewing is about having fun.  Some people love gadgets and equipment.  If that is what excites you, go for it, and even look into what it takes to make your own equipment.

If you have suggestions about equipment for new homebrewers, or old ones, please leave us a comment.



Monday, February 25, 2013

Lug Wrench Chart on Brookston Beer Bulletin!

When we started posting Beer Charts on the blog, I remember sending the first chart to Tom and when I asked if it was worth posting, the response was "my wife just saw it, rolled her eyes and mumbled something about beer should definitely post it!"  Fifteen charts later, the project has been going strong.

But on Tuesday February 19th, one of our charts were catapulted beyond our expectations when it was featured as an infographic by Jay Brooks's Brookston Beer Bulletin.  Jay and his site are arguably one of the most influential beer blogs in the craft beer industry.  Tom and I have been fans of his for years, so I think the two of us were floating a few inches off the ground when we our chart come up on his site.  Thanks a millon Jay!

For anyone interested, all the beer charts we've done can be found on this page, including links to download PDF copies of each collection.



"Be of good cheer, drink only great beer."
-Jay Brooks

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Return to Brewing with a Scottish 60/-

After taking almost 8 months off from brewing (which was not by intent but by real life getting in the way), I was finally able to dust off the brew kettles this past weekend and get a brewing session completed. Sadly, I’ve been planning this brewing sessions for 2 months but one excuse after another delayed it until I finally had a free Sunday to brew. But let's rejoice as the beer is now in the fermentor bubbling away!

I’m not sure why, but I’ve had an itch to brew a Scottish 60/-.  Its easy drinking style and a good excuse for some of my non-craft beer friends to try some homebrew. Plus, it’s a style I have not yet attempted, so I would be able to cross it off my To-Do Style List. The recipe itself (modified for what I had on hand) was from a Pro/Am beer done by homebrewer Nathan Smith and Triple Rock brewpub in the San Francisco areas. The beer was talked and raved about during the September 9th, 2012 episode of the Brewing Network’s Sunday Session, which locked my sights on that particular recipe.

On the brew day, it did not take me long to get back into the groove as it seems like much of the activity of brewing is like riding a bike. I overshot my gravity by a few points, which is somewhat normal for small beers (I need to bump up my efficiency for anything under 1.040). However, the biggest issue that battled me was the weather. Over the last 1-2 weeks, we’ve been battered by blizzards and snow. On this particular brew day, the wind was howling through backyard and made a mockery of the burner's attempt to bring the wort to a boil. After an hour and a half of sitting on the burner without a boil and the light fading from the sky, I ended up moving the entire brew kettle (wort and all) onto my kitchen's cooktop electric burner. Steeling myself against the complaints from my wife, I was able to get the wort boiling in the kitchen (albeit a gentle boil) and the brew day could continue.

Based on the guidance given with the recipe, even though primary fermentation should be done within a few days, it was recommended to leave the beer for a full two weeks in the carboy to let it pull itself together. So while I’m anxious to get the beer on tap, its back to the waiting game for me.

Cold Loose Change
Style: Scottish Light 60/-
(recipe modified from Nathan Smith’s recipe described on 9/9/12 Sunday Session)

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size: 6.0 gal
Boil Size: 7.0 gal
Measured OG: 1.038 (Target: 1.034)
Measured FG: 1.008 (Target: 1.010)
Estimated SRM: 10.8
Estimated IBU: 16 (Rager)
ABV: 3.9% (Target: 3.3%)
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75% (should have been 80-85% to hit OG target)
Boil Time: 65 Min

Grain / Extract / Sugar
5.75 lbs Rahr US 2-Row Malt (this was supposed to be Maris Otter malt, but used 2-Row + 10% munich
as a substitute, which was a trick I heard during an interview with the brewer from Firestone Walker)
0.75 lbs GlobalMalt Munich Malt
6 oz Crystal 40 Malt
6 oz Crystal 120 Malt
2.5 oz Pale Chocolate Malt

0.5 oz Northern Brewer pellets (8.9% alpha) at 65 min.

30 drops of Foam Control in the boil

1 pack of US-05 dry yeast

Mash Schedule
Saccharification rest at 151-152 F for 60 minutes
Batch sparged twice with each sparge being 3 gallons of water (temp: 168-172 F)

Brewed on 2/17/ 2013 by JW

Mash Temps were intended to be in the 154 F range, but I left it at 151-152 F as I didn’t have any hot water ready to go at dough in.

OG was overshot because of my systems increased efficiency at low gravities – I was already over the target when I took the pre-boil measurement. Added 0.5 gallons of boiling water to the boil at 15 minutes to flameout to bring the volume back up to pre-boil volume.

Could not get the kettle to boil outside because of the cold and wind, so had to move it to kitchen’s burner. The boil was gentle as compared to what I normally get from the burner, so there is some concern that I did not drive everything off or that there was lower utilization.

The intent was a 60 minute boil, but I extended it by 5 minutes as the boil halted for 5 min when the water addition and immersion chiller were added with 15 minutes before flameout.

Oxygenation was accomplished with an O2 system and diffusion stone , run for 60 seconds.

Yeast was proofed in ~1 cup of boiled and chilled water (90 F).

Yeast was pitched at carboy was placed in chest freezer with setpoint set to 66 F. Signs of fermentation showed up ~18 hours after pitching.

Feb 27, 2012 - After 10 days of fermenting and the activity having been completed for several days, the beer was racked into a keg to be carbonated.  FG on the beer was 1.008, which was a few points than I would have liked.  The beer is light bodied, as would be expected, and there is a defined burnt sugar / chocolate malt character to the beer.  A little cold conditioning should do the beer well.



“I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer”
-Homer Simpson

Monday, February 18, 2013

Super Hopped Pale Ale and Peanut Brittle

A few weeks ago, I posted about an all-grain brewing class I taught at my local homebrewing store, The Fermentation Trap.  The class was divided between one night of lecture and a practical brewing demonstration on my equipment.  The goal being to reinforce what the students learned through slides and talking with a brew day, and to let them ask questions regarding the actual process.  Given my goal of brewing mostly session beer recipes, I elected to make a recipe created by a San Diego homebrewer and Stone Brewing Company, called San Diego County Session ale.

As can be seen by the recipe, the beer calls for a ridiculous amount of kettle and dry hops.  The hop bill is more in line with a double IPA, than an approximately 4% ABV session pale ale.  To be honest, I do not think I have ever hopped a 5-gallon batch to this level, and it caused several interesting issues during the brew day.  The most significant of these was that I only ended up with 5 gallons of wort from the kettle - it is amazing how much liquid hop matter can absorb.  Now that the beer is carbonated and ready, I wanted to post some tasting notes on it, along with a peanut brittle I made using it for Valentine's Day (my lovely wife is a huge hop head).  The peanut brittle recipe is from Sean Paxton and has been made in my house many times.  I would encourage our readers to give it a try.

Beer pours a very hazy clover-honey color, with a few bits of dry hop at the bottom of the glass.  The head is off white and about a half inch thick and leaves a nice lacing on the glass.  The beer has a very strong grapefruit aroma, almost like fresh pressed grapefruit juice.  The aromatics are layered with hints of pine needles and something slightly dank or herbal.

The initial flavor impression is very reminiscent of the aroma, with lots of grapefruit juice character.  This fades to a bitterness with the slight character of lemon pith.  The bitterness is present in the end, but nothing like what one would expect given all of the hop matter in the beer.  The bitterness lingers on the palate for some time, but not in an unpleasant manner.  There is little malt character in the beer and its lack of alcohol or malt body leaves the beer tasting a bit thin.  For all the raw hop presence, I feel the beer is missing something.

When tasted with the peanut brittle, the beer holds up surprisingly well.  The caramel sugar flavor seems to fill the missing body component in the beer, as well as the the sweetness of the brittle, the saltiness of the peanuts, and the citrus of the beer combine to make an interesting flavor on the palate.  By itself, the peanut brittle is very good, but I get little of the citrus character that is supposed to come from the beer.  But, tasted with the base beer, I think a flavor in between the two elements comes through and makes it better than either of the parts.

In the end, I think the beer needs some adjustment, if I ever make it again.  But I must say, I love the peanut brittle.



Monday, February 11, 2013

2013 National Homebrewers Conference

After many years of wanting to go, I am finally going!  The 2013 National Homebrewers Conference, put on by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), will take place on June 27 to 29 in Philadelphia, PA.  Entitled "Brewing Up A Revolution," this year's conference promises to be bigger than ever, nearly doubling the 2012 capacity to 3,400 attendees.  The conference set other records too, as I found out when I tried to register for a hotel room.  The main hotel sold out in less than three hours after starting registration for the event, which I discovered while on the phone with them.  I was fortunate to get one of the few remaining rooms at a hotel directly across the street.  The conference itself sold out in 20 hours, breaking the previous years record of about two days.  I am very exited to be attending.

Some of the conference events I am looking forward to include:

  • Seminars: There will be 36 seminars on a variety of topics this year, during the conference.  Looking at offerings from previous years, the topics range all over the place, from going professional, to brewing session beers, to interesting new hop varieties.  There will be something for everyone.  On top of that, AHA members can access recordings of the talks on the AHA website.
  • Club Night:  Clubs from around the area put together themed booths and stands to serve their beer in one of the biggest homebrew parties of the year.  Many of the beers being served are "experimental" to say the least.  There is even a small chance my local club will participate in a Virginia club booth, but time will tell.  For those who have not seen it, Basic Brewing Radio has shot video episodes of this event in the past and it looks like great fun.
  • Meet Homebrewing "Luminaries:" Many of the homebrewing world's celebrities (if you can call them that) attend the conference.  I would enjoy meeting some of the authors, podcast hosts, and other members of the larger homebrewing community that I have read and listened to over the years.
  • Awards Banquet:  The conference culminates in a gourmet dinner prepared by Homebrew Chef Sean Paxton.  Sean works with Rogue Ales to cook with, infuse into, and pair food with their variety of beers.  I have read many reviews of these dinners in the past and I am exited to experience the food and beer first hand, as well as cheer on any people I know who make it into the second round of the National Homebrew Competition.
I also hope to bring home some pictures and stories to share with the Lug Wrench audience.  If you have attended a past AHA Conference and have any tips to share with me, I would love to hear them.  Feel free to leave a comment on this post.



Monday, February 4, 2013

Root Beer

My son has liked to drink root beer for some time.  Thinking back, I cannot pinpoint when he developed an interest in it, other than his love for soda of all types (and how it makes him burp).  The interest in root beer is reinforced, probably, by seeing the amount of time I spend with the homebrewing hobby, and the fact that giving the kids soda is a relatively rare occurrence at our house.  So, when root beer was first offered at one of our local brewing companies, Beer Hound Brewery, my son's immediate question was "Dad, when can we make some?"

Admittedly, I was not immediately supportive of the idea.  The most significant reason was related to space in the kegerator, as my son imagined having a tap for root beer, just like they do at the brewery.  This would make managing beer production more difficult.  Additionally, root beer's aroma has an incredible ability to permeate plastic hoses and gaskets and I have even heard stories of the aroma migrating through shared CO2 lines to alter kegs of beer nearby.  This would require separate gas lines and taps in the kegerator, making the idea even less appealing.    Finally, there was the problem of having 5 gallons of soda on hand and the kids asking for it all the time and all of the parenting headaches this would cause.  But, my son prevailed on me and I think I figured a way around all of those issues.

The root beer soda extract I purchased from my local homebrewing store has a recipe to make just a gallon of soda at a time.  It recommended mixing a tablespoon of extract along with 2 cups of sugar and a gallon of water.  This solution is stirred until the sugar is dissolved and 1/8 teaspoon of brewers yeast is added to the mixture (a fraction of a package).  The root beer is then split into two separate 2-liter soda bottles that have been cleaned and sanitized.  The bottles are left at room temperature to bottle condition for a week or so, until the plastic is firm with carbonation, then they are kept in the fridge until consumed.  Squeezing the plastic bottles gives an excellent gauge of carbonation and prevents over-carbonation into bottle bombs, a big problem with homemade soda.  The goal is just a tiny bit of fermentation to carbonate, but to leave almost all of the sugar remaining.  If left to its own devices, the yeast would ferment until all the sugar is gone, massively over-carbonating the beverage and making glass bottles very dangerous to handle.

We are still waiting for the bottles to firm up before putting them in the fridge, but they are almost there now. If the experiment proves tasty, I am sure we will try other homemade sodas, or even trying to make root beer out of actual roots.  A friend of mine at work has done that and is willing to loan me a few books that his son and he used to research root beer, its history, and manufacture.  The sky is the limit and I can certainly say we have had fun so far.

Let us know if you have ever made soda at home or have any advice on the subject.


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