Archive for the 'Gear' Category

BrewBalls

Once you stop chuckling, you realize this is a really great idea.

Banquet draft tower – for all your office party needs

Banquet Tap tower

I built this banquet tap tower for Michelle’s office christmas party in December. It’s a simple block of CVG Douglas fir with a hole straight-thru for a beer spigot and a partial groove in the bottom that allows it to be attached to a desktop with a C-clap. It started out as a part of a jockey-box, but after reading a fair amount, I decided that for the purposes of a party (or a wedding), the 5-gallon kegs usually get finished before they can cool down, and having the keg under the desk in a bucket of ice would be cheaper and less foamy than trying to get a jockey box dialed in.

Anyway, it worked well, looked nice, and was fun to make with some scrap I had laying around. I re-sawed some of the CVG fir to glue to the sides so that it would be CVG all the way around. It seemed a shame to have only 2 pretty sides. I didn’t finish it – and I probably should given the wet nature of beer – but unfinished fir just looks so lovely. Personally, I like it better with the short tap-handle. Next step will be to make a matching handle.

iGrill or iMash?

iGrill just released a bluetooth enabled meat thermometer that can send updated temps of grilling meat to your iPhone. Now, if my luck with electronic themometers hasn’t been so bad, I’d say that this would be an awesome remote mash thermometer.

Analysis of hop pellet glumpiness

Hop Merchant Indie Hops has a blog posting about a recent pellet evaluation by Chad Kennedy of Laurelwood. It’s more of a press release about how awesome their pellets are, but it’s still an interesting read.

Hopefully all hop processers take note of Chad’s quote:

The gold standard for dry hopping is the whole cone..

In this brewer’s opinion, whole cones are also the gold standard for not being a pain in the ass to clean out of your gear.

Hops for 2010

Christmas came early this year, and the stinky box of joy was full of gold foil surprises. For loose-leaf brewers cuts I have a brick of Cascades (8.7% alpha this year!) and a brick of Simcoes (11.8%). We all know about Cascades, but I’ve not used Simcoes for a few years and really like them. Great for a single-hopped IPA.

For pellets, I scored the following.

  • Newport (9.8% alpha)
  • Sterling (7.0% alpha)
  • Millennium (17.4%)
  • Horizon (12%)
  • Santiam (6.1%)
  • Crystal (4.3%)
  • Amarillo (8.2%) drool
  • Palisades (8.0%)

Thanks to my connection (father-in-law) and his at Hop Union.

Flask failure

While I was drying off my 1 liter Erlenmeyer flask yesterday, I heard a strange pop. I had just used it to culture a yeast starter for a beer, and after cleaning it up, there was a sickening clink that caused me to pause. A quick check revealed a long crack across the bottom of the flask. Luckily, this didn’t happen while I was boiling a mini-wort for the starter, or when I set the nearly boiling contents in to an ice bath. Best yet, it didn’t happen when the vessel was full of a bajillion yeast cells waiting to eat my fermentable sugars and poop out alcohol.

Do not use

Do not use

Now it’s time to shop for a new one. 1L has worked fine, but wouldn’t 2L be finer?

Scenes from last brew day

I’m still brewing on a proto-tier system and taking notes about the height, usability and relationships between vessels so I’ll know exactly where I want things before I make them static. I used to be somewhat sensitive about that state of my “brewery,” until I started looking at other people’s tiers on the internet. Now the white towel rack from our first apartment no longer embarrasses me. And I know it’ll be retired soon after a second productive career.

I started heating water in the HLT at 6 am on Monday (it was light and so very nice out) and was really happy working in the quiet and cool morning, and I’ve grown so very fond of brewing outside, so I’ve got to make sure this system is still portable and can be broken down to store and transport. As I was setting up and breaking down, I started to realize how many piecemeal items that were added along the way can be made a permanent fixture and save time. I also realized that my wort chiller needs some modification to work in my new brew kettle.

Oh, and I still dislike pelletized hops. Such a mess.

These pipes are clean!

I’ve been meaning to get a draft cleaning kit going for nearly 4 years. I’ve gotten away without simply because I (we) manage to drink the beer quickly enough that by the time the detritus and germs seriously affect flavor, there’s nothing left to taint. However, I recently had a pony keg of Laurelwood Hop Monkey on since I didn’t have any active brews, and since it lasted longer, the flavors were seriously injured by the end.

So I purchased Micromatic’s basic hand-pump cleaning system and am going to aim for a weekly line cleaning. The process is frighteningly simple and should make for better draft product coming out of my refrigerator door.

The first time I tried it though, I was also watching both girls. I was getting interrupted every 2.5 minutes, so I had to constantly wash my hands to make sure all the caustic was off, put out an emotional fire, then get back to the lines. It took a little longer than I expected, but real world results usually differ from “ideal conditions.”

Trial and error

Today Rich and Brent stopped by to join in the brewing session. It was a slightly longer than normal session because I chose to modify several variables in the brew house. Not only did I try out a prototype tier system (fugly), I used my new kettle. Luckily, the gear-related problems were minor, and the major time consumer was actually a cold mash. My strike temp was too low, so we pulled off a gallon or so and reheated it before adding it back. This of course made it too hot, so I added water from the HLT and the hose when the HLT wasn’t quick enough, but that dropped it too much. After 2 more pseudo-decoction mashes, we finally go up to the right temperature and let it rest.

Rich brought over some great rye bread, so we stepped next door for some ham and swiss and had some fine sandwiches with a Green King Suffolk Strong Vintage Ale. Talk about a great lunch. The Suffolk Strong a blend of a pale and a strong ale aged in wooden vats for two years. It had a wonderfully sour woody flavor and gave off a delightful aroma. Literally like someone’s old, musty woodpile. Must be the Cooper in my lineage that makes that an attractive flavor.

Anyway, the lautering went quite well and we used Rich’s refractometer to watch the gravity and ended up boiling about an hour and a half later than I’d expected. Rich had to leave for another engagement so Brent helped me cool and rack the beer, which was problematic because something circumvented the false bottom and clogged the dip tube to the spigot.

Anyway, we came out at 1.058 and the wort tasted wonderful. So much sweater than usual, largely because it wasn’t obliterated by my usual overdoes of hops.

Thinking about tiers

My last couple brew days have included a weird shuffling ritual about half-way through lautering where my sweet wort kettle is nearly full and my hot liquor tank (also my brew kettle) still have hot water that needs to go in to the lauter. What ensues is a silly, high risk game of musical pots as I pour liquids between 4-5 different kettles and stock pots trying to get all the hot water from my main brew kettle so I can collect the remaining sweet wort.

Another method I’d like to leave behind is the constant ladling and scooping from the hot liquor tank and pouring it in to the mash tun. I’m afraid I’ll mess up the grain bed. I think I’m going to have to build myself a 2 tier rack so that I can harvest gravity’s natural talent in making water go downhill. Luckily, there’s lots of examples for ideas at Brewhalla.

Now I’m just mentally building it. And watching craigslist for potential kettles and parts.