Friday, January 30, 2009

Smells Good!

Shawn checking the nose on his Belgian White on a 22F brew day.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Flannery's In Mercersburg

Last weekend, we went to visit some friends in Mercersburg, PA and ended up at one of their locals: Flannery's.

We have a couple of bars by us that have a good tap selection, but this place takes the cake. A Quad? American Double Imperial IPA? Even better they swap out beers all the time, so there is always something new to try.

Between us we tried everything of interest (no samples, full pours only please). The Franziskaner Dunkle was really good as was the Chub and the Seven Gates.

The most interesting was the Rodenbach Grand Cru. I have heard of this sour style but have never tried one. It was pretty amazing - like drinking cranberry/sprite/mead/cider/beer.

The quad was, of course, totally over the top. I don't even like doubles, so I am the wrong guy to review that beer.

Thanks for a great night T&P - lets go back when they swap out some beers!

Monday, January 26, 2009

(Semi) Live Temperature Data for Batch #23 Fermentation

I'm inputting this data in to a spreadsheet by hand and this chart will auto update to reflect the data. (Note: All done.)

I can't get it to size correctly and legend is cut off. The orange line is the fridge thermostat setting. Fixed.

As you can see, I had to babysit things for a bit around hour 27. To elaborate, the wort temp hit and stayed at 71F (max for this recipe is 72F) despite small ambient adjustments. I finally cranked down the thermostat and let the fridge cool. After about 10 minutes of cooling, the fridge hit 50F and the Wort dropped to 70. At that point I returned ambient to 63 and things stabilized.

UPDATE: Around hour 40 I have started to bring the ambient up as the wort has dropped to 68F - the lower limit of our acceptable range for this recipe. I want to bring the wort back up to 69F or 70F and hold it there for the rest of the fermentation.

UPDATE: As of hour 60-whatever, the wort has stabilized to ambient temp. As the interesting part seems to be over, I will no longer be updating the data set. This was a very interesting experiment and I think we collected some valuable data. We'll be doing this for the next several batches to see how they vary and to see if we can anticipate our ambient temperature adjustments.

Watching the Wort Temps

Now that our Coke fridge has been modified to control the temperature, we need to learn how to use it. As wort is fermenting in to beer, the yeast actually produce heat. I have read various estimate as to how much this will heat up the wort (4 -10 degrees F), but we need to find out definitively. Yeast produce different flavors depending on the temperature of their environment (the wort) so controlling that temperature is our goal.

Using a wireless thermometer, we installed the probe (long probe is looooong) in the lid of one of the primary buckets. This will let us keep a close eye on what is happening inside as fermentation takes place.

For this recipe (the Belgian White) we want to keep the wort between 68F and 72F. As the temperature inside the bucket tries to climb, I will counter it by dropping the temperature inside the Coke fridge.

Eventually we would like to make this automatic by wiring the probe directly to the thermostat, but for now it will be hands on.

As of this morning (16 hours after we pitched our yeast) the wort temp is 2 degrees warmer (69F) than the ambient air in the fridge. Fermentation is going great-guns, so I'll be checking it every hour or so and gathering data.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Batch #23 - Belgian White

Another big brew day and the last one for a few weeks. Things went very smoothly and we have 15 gallons of the Belgian White in the Coke fridge at 68F along with the 15 gallons of Irish Stout that is in secondary.

Shawn has adjusted the BW recipe so we're expecting a spicier and more flavorful beer this time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

What Does Dry Hopping Taste Like?

Our first lager (Batch #21 Pilsener) is in the keg! We lagered for about 4 weeks total. 2 weeks at 50F and 2 weeks at 30F. Both kegs went right in to the fridge to keep them cooooold while they carbonate. The beer is a very light straw color and completely translucent - a first for this brewery.

We split this 10 gallon batch and only dry hopped half of it so we could taste the difference. I sampled both as they racked to the kegs and the un-dry hopped tasted like flat Bud - pretty boring but drinkable. The dry hopped half (or D.H. or Designated Hitter) has much more flavor but is not over hopped at all - at least at this point.

We'll see how they taste once they are carbed up - about 7 days.

Supply and Demand

Our latest problem - getting our ingredients when we need them.

Now that we are brewing big batches we have run in to this problem a few times. Neither of our local homebrew stores are consistently prepared for us to come in and buy 30 pounds of various grains.

To make matter worse, we need to buy these grains no more than a day or so before brew day as once they are ground they begin to go stale.

Today, Shawn is driving to Columbia, MD (far far away) to attempt to complete our grain bill for this weekend. This, of course, sucks.

There are a couple of solutions to this problem.

First, we can submit our grain bill (and hop bill and everything else) to the store early and have them ensure that they order what we need.

Second, we can acquire our own grain mill. This would allow us to buy the grains far in advance and grind them on brew day. It would also allow us to buy grain in bulk which is much cheaper in the long run.

I expect that we may end up employing both of these solutions so that we are not scrambling around the state every time we are ready to brew.

Light Saber?

No! Refractometer! This tool allows us to test our mash/wort/beer quickly using very small samples. It was a Christmas gift from my dad. It is definitely the coolest looking piece of equipment I have in the beer-toolbox.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Keg #6 Joins the Ranks

Six kegs may seem excessive to some, but they are being divided between two households now. I expect we may see a few more before long.

Heater Hacking Part III - Success!

After much shenanigans, our Climate Controlled Fermentation Chamber is working like a charm. It will heat or cool as needed to maintain a specific temperature and has been running for about a week with no problems.

There are still some housekeeping tasks to do to hide the wiring and Shawn is looking for a thermostat that satisfies our requirements and can do remote sensing (so it can be on the outside of the fridge and the probe can be in the beer) but even as-is this thing is wonder.

Later I will post more complete information about how Shawn accomplished this amazing feat of beer-engineering (Beergineering!).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oh Look... Heaven.

I put a shelf in our beer fridge. We can now easily fit 4 kegs or even carboys if we need to. I never bothered with this before, but with the volume that we are producing I think it will come in handy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Heater Hacking Part II - But Wait...

After spending a bunch of time (not to mention cash) on integrating a heater in to our Coke fridge, we discovered something amazing/annoying.

The Coke fridge will heat itself.

The existing cooling system includes two high speed fans located inside the fridge. These fans pull air across a radiator (or exchanger or whatever it is called) and direct a sheet of cold air down the front of the fridge. I assume this is to achieve an air-curtain effect to minimized the loss of cold air when the door is opened.

Even when the compressor is turned off these high speed fans are still running. And guess what? The fan motors generate heat. DUH! So with the door closed, the compressor off, and the fans running the temperature inside the fridge slowly climbs. We went from 61F to 73F in about 30 minutes. Amazingly, this is actually TOO HOT. We need about 65F max.


So Shawn is going to figure out how to wire the system so that by default the fans are off. When we need a little heat, the fans will kick on. When we need to cool the fans and the compressor kick on. Simple, right?


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Batch #22 - Irish Stout

We had a great brew day on Saturday that included several firsts for us.

The first 15 gallon batch! Actually closer to 18 which gives us some extra in the primaries and allows us to avoid have to scrape every last drop (along with clumps of protein strands ewww) out of the boil pot. We will definitely get 3 full kegs out of this.

Stress Free 60 Minute Mash! We hit our temps right on the money this time with no mid-mash adjustments. We also used an iodine test to see when starch conversion was complete and, as suspected, we did not need to be mashing for 90 minutes. We cut it down to 60 this time and it may be even shorter in the future.

The First Stout! Brewing a batch of beer is a fun and rewarding day, but brewing a Stout has an extra element to it. The aromas are so strong and different and the beer is BLACK and very substantial looking. You really feel like you did something amazing.

All in all a great day. We're brewing again in two weeks!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tappity Tap Tap

My grandparents sent us some cash-ola for Christmas and we took half of it and installed a tap on the beer fridge. Awesome!

Not only is this more convenient, but the inside of my fridge will stay cleaner as well. Sometimes after parties I would literally have to mop out the inside from beer being spilled and dripped from the party tap.

I still need to get and install a drip-tray for it and "balance" the system with longer hose on the beer side, but even without all that it's great!

Thanks Goggie and Pop!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Heater Hacking

Early on New Year's Eve, Shawn and I spent some time prototyping a heater for our Climate Controlled Fermentation Chamber (also known as the Coke Fridge).

We need the chamber to hold a specific temperature, so Shawn's idea is to hook up an auto-thermostat to the existing cooling compressor as well as a heating element. This will allow us to simply set the desired temperature and the system will do the rest regardless of the temperature of the basement.

The heating test went well, except we found out one important fact: thermostats designed for household HVAC systems are not responsive enough for this application. Shawn is looking for a substitute.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Oh No I Suck Again!

The first all-grain batch is awful - totally undrinkable. It's the exact same problem I have had a few times before. So depressing. Crap. Crappity-crap-crap!

However, there is an upside. I believe that we have finally figured out what is causing these every-once-in-a-while bad batches.

At first I thought might be a problem with one of my kegs. There was no way to prove this because I don't keep records of which beer ends up in which keg, but the frequency of the problem seemed about right. I had already started stripping down my empty kegs and soaking the poppet valves, etc.

However, when I tasted this new Hefe and found the same problem I knew it must be something else. (BTW don't ask why I didn't notice the problem when I sampled the beer. I actually did notice it, but I think my brain refused to believe it). This 10 gallon batch of Hefe was split between two primary buckets, two secondary carboys, and two kegs yet both halves of the batch tasted exactly the same.

This is a big clue. A random poorly rinsed keg or carboy would only have effected half the batch. It had to be something in the boil or ingredients.

I was talking this through with Jess and my dad and that's when it hit me. The yeast. For all the Hefe's I've been using yeast that I harvested from batch #8 and every one of them has been bad. Another bad batch I had was the second Kolsch I brewed on top of a used yeast cake.

The more I dig in to my (crappy) records, the more I am sure about this. I actually stopped harvesting yeast quite a while ago, but the 3333 used for the Hefe was harvested and, I think, is bad and producing nasty flavors. It seems obvious now, which is even more depressing. I have some theories as to why the yeast is bad, but I wont bore you with them. They are probably incorrect anyway.

So, along with several gallons of bad beer, I'll be dumping all of my stored yeast as all of it is suspect.

Luckily, only one of the other batches currently brewing is not using a freshly purchased yeast. However, that yeast was not harvested from a batch of beer, but rather saved from a large starter. I'm not (too) worried about that one.

So lesson learned I guess. Especially now that we are doing 10 -20 gallon batches it is simply not worth the risk using old yeast just to save a few bucks.