Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Yeast Victory


I should have used a blow off tube.  When I checked on my brews from the weekend tonight I was greeted by this mess.  The american ale yeast in my Janet's Brown Ale was really going to town.  Thankfully, it only came through the airlock and didn't get plugged and shoot to the ceiling.  You can see it was still bubbling away.  I swapped it out with another air lock and should be good for now.  My fermentation closet smelled great.  This beer is always good.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Christening



The day could not have started any better. Water tests showed that everything in my new system was working as expected. It all came together better than I could have hoped.

Then my mill rollers wouldn't turn.  I finally have a fully functional brew system and I can't crush the grain. The alarm has already gone off. The water is ready to start the mash, but I don't have grain to add to the water. The new system is waiting on me! With the help of my friend Jamie we were able to quickly take the mill apart and clean the rollers. The rollers had been gummed up with a mixture of machining oil and grain dust that wouldn't allow them to turn. We got the mill put back together and we were back in business!

Moving the water from the hot liquor tank (HLT) to the mash tun was very easy thanks to the pumps. Jamie dumped the grain in while I stirred the mash to break up any dough balls.  Once the mash was ready to go it was time to start recirculating the mash through the coil in the HLT.  Running the mash through the HLT maintains the temperature of the mash.  After the pumps worked well to move the water over to the man tun they decided to give me a harder time with the recirculation.  They just wouldn't start moving the liquid.  After pulling a lot of hoses to check for any clogs (and finding none) the pumps stopped messing with me and started working as expected.

This was the first time I have ever tried fly sparging.  I was concerned about getting the two pumps to work in sync, but that proved to not be difficult.  My estimated efficiency of 85% was dead on and I hit my pre-boil gravity exactly. The boil didn't go exactly as planned, but it is easily remedied for next time.  I didn't get the high evaporation rate I was expecting so my starting gravity was a little low.  Next time I will just start with a lower boil volume and it should be fine.

After the boil I ran the wort through my counter flow chiller for the first time.  I need to work on this step to get the wort to the right temperature for fermentation.  We'll see how it goes next time as I keep adjusting flow rates.

At the end of the day I had 5 gallons of vanilla stout in the fermenter and the day was a success.  All of the problems were minor and easily corrected for the next brew.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's Alive!

After somewhat of a hiatus from working on my brewing system (thank you overtime), I have finally made progress!  The outlets I need are now installed in the garage so I was able to test the control panel.  It was very satisfying to finally see the lights come on.  When I first turned the key, the amp meter didn't work.  I had a moment of panic as I remembered all of the build threads that I read that had a blown or defective amp meter.  I shut it off and took it back in the house to inspect the wiring.  The problem was staring me right in the face.  One of the power wires for the amp meter had come loose.  I reconnected it and powered back up and the amp meter was working perfectly.


I ran through some tests on the control panel and everything checked out as working except the boil temperature probe and the pumps.  The pumps just have not been tested because I still need to get them wired properly.  The boil temperature probe was another easy fix because I just had a bad solder job.  That means that I successfully wired the panel with everything going to the right place.  I am very proud of that.

With my new found momentum I also made all of the hoses that I need and finished the MLT.  The hoses were very simple to put together.  I don't know why I waited so long to make them.  It was just a matter of clamping quick disconnects to the ends.  The last step for the MLT was to attach the hose in that will return the wort to the mash tun during recirculation.  This also only required clamping a hose in place.

I also started to work on the control panel mount, but quickly learned that I did not receive the correct mount.  I need to send it back tomorrow and order the right one.

So revisiting the list of what I needed to finish:
  • Have the outlet installed
  • Finish brew stand (wood shelves, control panel mount)
  • Pump cord rewire
  • Wire heating elements
  • Recirculating coil install
  • Counter-flow chiller assembly
  • Make hoses with quick disconnects
  • Ventilation hood
I'm feeling really good about finishing this up in the next week or two.  It may come down to just being able to get the right parts in time.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Recent Concoctions

I mentioned that I broke my brew ban and made a rye pale ale with my friend.  It was definitely worth it.  We hadn't brewed together in a year.  He also helped me with the brew system so really it just balanced out to my normal procrastination.  We got the base recipe from homebrewtalk.com then made some tweaks based on availability and personal preference.  The recipe is as follows:

Rye Pale Ale (Name TBD)
7.5 lb Pale 2 Row
2.25 lb Rye Malt
1 lb Munich Malt
0.5 lb Victory Malt
0.5 oz Magnum (13.8% AA) - 60 min
1 oz Willamette (4.8% AA) - 30 min
0.5 oz Goldings (4.9% AA) - 20 min
0.5 oz Goldings (4.9% AA) - 10 min
1 oz Cascade (6.8% AA) - 0 min
Wyeast 1968 London ESB

The brew day went smoothly although we ended up overshooting our target gravity by 5 points.  It is probably the last brew on my old equipment because I'll be selling my current mash tun and kettle to help pay for other brewing stuff.  This beer is ready for the keg.  I just need to take another gravity reading and clean a keg.  Hopefully it will all happen this week, but there is no spot for it on the keezer so there is no huge rush in moving it.

The other thing I have bubbling away is a cyser.  A cyser is a mead fermented with apple juice and honey.  This beverage came out of Club Night at the National Homebrewers Conference.  One of my club members was pouring it and it was delicious.  He told me the recipe and this is my best recreation of it given the state I was in when he told me the recipe.  I am just making a small batch of this as that is the fermenter I won't need for awhile.

Apple Jack
2 gal apple juice
4 lb honey
3 cloves
1 allspice berry
2 lb raisins
1 brick of wet bakers yeast
1 lb agave syrup

Everything but the agave syrup is mixed and fermented.  When the raisins all (or mostly) float then I will move it to secondary and sweeten it with the agave syrup.  The syrup will kick off another fermentation but leave behind some residual sweetness.  What you are left with is a very dangerous drink.  It tastes delicious and is very high alcohol (his version was 20% as measured by his vinmeter).

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Kettles Complete!

It took a lot longer than it should have, but I finally finished my new brew kettles!  Summer finally arrived in a big way and that really slowed me down.  I suddenly wanted to be outside all of the time.  During this time, I also broke my brew ban.  When my friend was visiting for the National Homebrewers Conference we just had to brew up a batch!  I'll have a post up on the rye pale ale we brewed soon.

But enough about why I haven't made progress as quickly, let just look at the shiny things!  First step was installing the HERMS coil in the HLT.  That was a much easier process than I was expecting.  I think that is largely due to picking up a tube cutter that was able to cut stainless steel.  I was able to quickly trim the ends of the coils needed rather than struggling with a hacksaw.


The last step was wiring the heating elements in the HLT and the boil kettle.  Once I figured out an easy way to strip the rubber coating off of the 10/3 wire, this was a pretty easy job.  The only issue I had was that I had misplaced the grounding screws for the gang boxes.  So I had to go pick up a couple new ones.




So revisiting the list of what I needed to finish:
  • Have the outlet installed
  • Finish brew stand (wood shelves, control panel mount)
  • Pump cord rewire
  • Wire heating elements
  • Recirculating coil install
  • Counter-flow chiller assembly
  • Make hoses with quick disconnects
  • Ventilation hood
I don't know why I keep setting dates for when this will be finished.  I don't meet them ever.  So someday I will brew on this thing.  The ventilation hood is not needed to brew.  I'll just need to make sure I have good airflow in the garage.  Of course if I procrastinate long enough the hood will become necessary because it will be cold in the garage with the doors open.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

National Homebrewers Conference 2012

This year I attended the National Homebrewers Conference for the first time.  It was a great experience.  I learned a lot, drank a lot and had a whole bunch of fun.

The committee for this year's conference did a great job bringing in speakers.  Here were some of the highlights for me:

  • Jennifer Talley from Redhook had a great talk about the history of session beers and what to consider when designing a recipe for a session beer.
  • Neva Parker from White Labs did a yeast discussion around the myths of yeast and fermentation.  Yeast is a topic I want to dig more into especially after some of the things that were presented in this talk.
  • Going Pro Panel with Dick Cantwell of Elysian, Jamil Zainasheff of Heretic, Beaux Bowman of Black Raven and Jeff Althouse of Oakshire Brewing.  Every homebrewer entertains thoughts of going pro at some point and these guys opened up about the troubles and triumphs they experienced when starting their own breweries.
There were a number of other talks that were excellent.  If you are an American Homebrewers Association member I believe you will be able to listen to the talks at some point.  They should be up on the AHA website by the end of July.

Pro Brewers Night was almost overwhelming.  There were so many beers to try and not enough time or liver strength to get to them all.  I had everything from great beers (Chuckanut Vienna Lager) to not so great beers (Garlic Chile Wheat Beer).  Chuckanut and Black Raven had the longest lines throughout the night.  Sandwiched between them and hidden by the long lines was Brickyard Brewing.  This was too bad for whoever didn't make it there because they were pouring a pretty good oatmeal stout.

If Pro Brewers night was almost overwhelming, Club Night was just insane.  Clubs from all over the country (although predominantly from Washington state) set up to pour hundreds of beers.  My own club, the Impaling Alers, had three beers end up being the part of the best of the conference beers pouring after the banquet on Sunday.  During my shift to serve we got to serve none other than Charlie Papazian himself.  The beers I had that night ranged from great to mediocre, but I can honestly say I had some of the best of the night at our own booth.

The Grand Banquet and Awards Ceremony featured an excellent meal by the Homebrew Chef, Sean Paxton, that was paired with Rogue beers.  When we first arrived we had the Chatoe Rogue Single Malt Ale to get us started.  The first course was a wild mushroom bisque paired with Rogue Mocha Porter.  Even the people at the table that didn't like mushrooms enjoyed this dish.  When we were done with the mushroom bisque they brought us salmon brined in Cap'n Sig's Northwestern Ale, roasted root vegetable mash infused with Hazelnut Brown Nectar and seasonal vegetables sauteed in a Centennial hop butter.  This was paired with the Chatoe Rogue OREgasmic Ale.  For dessert we had a coffee and doughnuts trifle paired with Rogue XS Old Crustacean.  The dinner was magnificent (as expected from Mr. Paxton).

Following dinner was the awards ceremony which I am going to gloss over and just mention that the Homebrewer of the Year was an Impaling Aler!  Congratulations to Jonathan Permen for winning Homebrewer of the Year!

Overall, the conference was great and I will be trying to return as often as I can.  The people were great and I just had a blast.  See you next year in Philadelphia!

Monday, July 2, 2012

What a Month

After my last post, I had a whirlwind end of the month.  We had some wonderful visits from friends and I attended the National Homebrewers Conference (more on that in a future post).  The first friend that came by helped out with some of the build, but after that everything was put away until tonight.  I have still made a lot of progress so prepare yourself for a number of updates!

For starters, I finished the control panel!  After receiving the terminals I needed, I was able to wire up the SSRs that will send power to the heating elements.  The only drawback to finishing the panel is that I am not able to test it yet.  I don't have the outlet installed that will power the brewery so I will have to wait to do any potential trouble shooting.

I finished the temperature probes for the kettles as well.  The last two probes were assembled with greater ease than the first one.  I guess I learned whatever lessons were necessary while making the first one to make the last two smooth sailing.

I mentioned in my last post that I was starting to drill holes in my shiny new kettles.  Once I got past the shock of putting holes in my kettles and got some new carbide bits, it was surprisingly easy.  The punches that I used for making clean holes in the kettles are just wonderful.  After I had all of the pilot holes drilled I realized I had neglected to purchase the 13/16" punch I needed to install all of the ball valves on the kettles.  Thankfully I was able to get one in pretty quickly and finish the job.


My friend helped me install all of the ball valves and the heating elements on the kettles.  Above is a picture of the HLT with the heating element and the ball valves for the recirculating coil installed.  I haven't wired the heating elements yet.  I am saving that for last on the kettles because it is easier to move them around now without a 6 ft cord hanging off of them.  I was glad my friend was there to help because it made things go a lot faster and smoother.


Above is a picture of the inside of the boil kettle.  The heating element, temp probe and Hop Stopper are all installed.  The temp probe still has the protective covering on it which is why it appears so large and white.

My friend also helped me assemble the brew stand.  This is another job that was much easier with two people.  For the brew stand I am taking some inspiration from the Electric Brewery forums and using an industrial shelving unit I bought at a big box hardware store.  Below is a picture of the kettles aligned on the stand (boil kettle, mash tun, HLT respectively).


Tonight I was able to get back to building and I managed to get all of the fittings installed on my Chugger pumps.  After playing with the amount of tephlon tape to use for various fittings I was able to get everything aligned as I wanted.  I also managed to tear my right hand up by not paying attention to where I was grabbing the threaded elbows.  I have a number of little cuts on the palm of my hand.


The list of things to do is quickly diminishing and I am getting excited to finally brew on the system.  Here is what I have left to do:

  • Have the outlet installed
  • Finish brew stand (wood shelves, control panel mount)
  • Pump cord rewire
  • Wire heating elements
  • Recirculating coil install
  • Counter-flow chiller assembly
  • Make hoses with quick disconnects
  • Ventilation hood

The only thing that is out of my control is having the outlet installed.  I am at the whim of the electrician's schedule.  If all goes to plan I should be brewing by the end of July!