Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Back in the Brew Game

Whew, it's been a long time since I brewed a batch of beer.   About a year ago we moved and it has taken me since then to get off my ass and get the brew gear back out and in action.  It also took my wife having a monumental birthday to motivate me.  I'm a real slacker.

For the event we brewed five gallons of blueberry beer.  It's a berry beer extract kit from More Beer that comes with raspberry but which I've replaced with blueberry flavor.  Sticking with my normal process of naming the beers with animals my wife picked "Bluebeary Beer"  I am hopeful my daughter will draw a cool label.

Here I am (in the beer shirt) slacking after the beer was done

As much as I tried to claim I found some motivation in the first paragraph the truth is I was barely involved in this brew day.  We were throwing a party simultaneously throughout the day and it seemed like I was always on the go and my brew team of Mike, Scott, Nick, Jason, and Brian did all the work.  I think I just carried the gear out and put the initial water in the kettle.  Then, when it was all done I carried the bucket down to the basement and cleaned up.

I owe a huge thanks to those guys for making sure the beer was made.

As usual we did run into one small problem.  Typically they are so minor that we just laugh about it.  This time we left out an ingredient - there was a 4 ounce bag of maltodexterin.  It is supposedly there to give the beer body, mouthfeel, and head retention.  The yeast will ignore it.  Well, so did we.

I am thinking about putting it in the bucket via a simple sugar solution just as I enter secondary this weekend.  I'm still debating that and looking for advice so if you know what you're about please let me know.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Poor Mans Fermentation Chamber

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving we brewed a douple IPA kit called Surly Furious.  I plopped the fermentation bucket down in my dingy basement and left it alone until yesterday.  However, while sitting at work yesterday I realized that there was no way the temperature in the basement was warm enough for the yeast to be doing it's thing so I decided that as soon as I got home I'd put toegther some sort of fermentation chamber on the fly just to get through this beer.

A couple years ago I backed a kickstarter for the BrewBit (note the website is outdated and I don't think it is really for sale anymore).  It's a cool digital temperature controller with a touch screen and a web interface.  However, I'd never gotten around to actually using it for anything other than a over-qualified beer fridge thermometer.  First world problem of the utmost degree.

The BrewBit set at 71

Having the brewbit on hand made the process vastly easier and really makes a lie of the claim that this is a poor mans fermentation chamber.  That gadget was expensive.  But the rest of this "build", and I use that term very loosely, is as poor as it gets.

I didn't have any scrap wood in the garage at all but I did have an old crate-ish box I'd made for my daughters science experiment as an incubation chamber before so I used that as the basis.  I then took an old electric space heater I keep in my bathroom (which gets inordinately cold in the winter) and sacrificed my tush comfort to provide a heat source for the beer.  Finally I grabbed an old painting drop cloth and draped it over the box to hold in the heat.

The Whole Enchilada

That's it.  The whole thing.  You can see the heater on the right and the drop cloth clumped on the top.  Looks pretty damn shabby.

Here is a close up of the heater "vented" into the box.  The box is kind of weird, it's made out of peg board because it needed to allow airflow when it was an incubation chamber.  The big hole wasn't there when I started but I was worried the heater would over-heat the pegboard so I cut out the hole with a utility knife to let the hot air enter.

Inside the box, on the far side is the bucket.  It's about a foot from the heater.  The temperature probe is on the far side of the bucket so that the air in the box really needs to get into the 70s before the BrewBit can turn off the heater.

The basement temperature was down near 60 when I first set this all up and the BrewBit turned on the heater about a minute after I set it up but then, as the temp got close to 68 in the box the surge protector popped and the temperature fell.  I didn't realize it had popped until about 20 minutes later when I went to check on things.  To alleviate that problem I ended up running an extension cord from the brew bit upstairs and taking the surge protector out of the loop.  I didn't want to plug the brew bit in directly to the wall in the basement because if it popped the circuit breaker I didn't want our deep freezer to shut off.

I remembered this morning that from the BrewBit website I could view the temperature activity.  Here is a sample of the variation where the BrewBit is aiming to keep the temperature in the box at 71F.

As you can see it's doing a pretty good job.  It was on a one minute cycle but this morning I changed it to a 3 minute cycle (which was the default setting before I changed it).  I'll monitor it during the day but I think I'll be happy.


In the photo above you can see the bucket in the chamber.  The black thing is the power cord for the BrewBit.  You can't even see the temperature controller wire at all.  But if you look closely you can see bubbles in the vapor lock!

Here is a very crappy and short video of the fermentation in process.

Once this beer is in the keg I'll build a real fermentation chamber that is both more efficient and which will both heat and cool depending on the current conditions.

Friday, October 9, 2015

All Grain Beer

I bumped into this site yesterday and it looks kind of useful.  I've never tried to design my own recipe before so I don't really know what I'm doing with it but I hope to use it in the future.

I like that their top level domain extension is beer.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Cleaning the Keg Lines on the Cheap

I killed the keg of Chocoloate PB Stout last night and now I need to clean the keg lines again.  Previously I filled my keg with water and cleaning solution, pressurized the keg, and ran the keg through the tap line a couple times.  It was a bit of a pain and definitely wasted a lot of CO2.

In fact, today I also had to refill my CO2 can.  I think I managed 4 kegs on a 20lb CO2 canister which seems like way too few kegs.  I suspect there might be a CO2 leak somewhere in my setup as well.

Anyway, today I ordered the parts to make a re-circulating keg cleaning system.  It looks pretty straight forward thanks to guide.

I am copying his parts list here just in case his page goes away.  You should go use his page and links (if he gets referral $$) because this was his post originally.

  1. Ecoplus Submersible Pump
  2. 1-foot length of 3/8" ID Tubing
  3. 3/8" Barb to 1/4" female NPT fitting
  4. Plug Adapter 1/4" MPT to 19/32"
  5. Appropriate Keg Liquid Post
I already have an extra pin lock liquid post so I didn't order that but I got the other four things.  When it's all assembled it should look like this

Photo Courtesy of
I have amazon prime and got two of the items with it (pump and NPT fitting) for 17.23.  I bought the other two items (hose and plug adapter) at and after shipping it was 14.99).  For a total of $32.22

That's a lot cheaper than the handpump thing they have at midwest supplies and this should work even better since I can connect my quick disconnect right to it!

I'll post a follow-up once I've assembled and tried it out.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout

The brew life has been pretty slow lately and thus so has this blog.  I doubt it is going to speed up soon but you never know - with warmer weather may come more brewing.

Logo by my daughter

Sometime in the last quarter of last year I bought the Midwest Supplies extract kit for "Chocolate Covered Beavr Nutz" and a couple jars of peanut butter powder (the kit doesn't include the peanut butter).  Then the kit and powder sat around in my garage until early last month where we finally busted out the equipment and brewed.

Peanut Butter Powder in the Carboy
The recipe was pretty simple.  Basically you make the beer like any extract kit but when you go to secondary just add the peanut butter powder.  Then, a few days later you add the cocoa nibs.  After that let it ferment for another week or so and voila' you're done.

I however let it sit in secondary for a few weeks longer than called for because I was being lazy about the time to prep the fridge for the keg.  It had been keg-less for so long I had put shelves back in it and the shelves all contained store bought beer.  Thankfully, kickball season started so the beer bottles disappeared and I finally found the motivation to fully clean the keg lines and get this beer in on tap about 10 days ago.

My garage is a jam packed mess.

Interestingly when I brought the beer up from the basement and into the warm garage it almost instantly started to bubble in the airlock.  The yeast had been re-awoken and it started to go crazy so I left the beer sitting in the carboy in the garage for a few hours.  Eventually, however, I got it in the keg and into the fridge.  The fridge was sitting at about 42F so I set the CO2 at 11 PSI and left it for this past Sunday (June 21, 2015).  It was hot out and I was in the mood for a drink so I poured a glass a day earlier than I planned but, fortunately, it was fully carbonated and ready to go.

The first pint
The beer has a nice head but it doesn't keep it for long.  It also has a pretty strong peanut butter aroma but a nice mild peanut butter flavor.  In fact, the entire beer, with an IBU of 68, is really mild and smooth.  It has a bit of a watery mouthfeel for a stout but I found that to be refreshing in the summer heat so I don't mind.  Overall I'm really happy with how it turned out and I can see myself making this kit again.  My wife also really likes it so that gives me further motivation to keep this on the keg rotation.

Up next I'll probably make another IPA or a Hefe or maybe some kind of Belgian.    Until then I look forward to drinking the rest of this keg of Chocolate Covered Beavr Nutz

Friday, August 22, 2014

Double Brew Day Coming Up

This weekend is Hefewiezen weekend!  That's right Mike and I (and maybe Jason) will be brewing up some Hefe.  We are still doing extract kits (will we ever graduate?)  and this time we are doing a kit from Northern Brewer and a second kit from Midwest Supplies.

Wait? What's that - Northern Brewer and Midwest are the same company?  Well, I wish we had known that before we ordered a kit from both to see how different kits compare.  Surprisingly there is a small difference.  The Midwest kit comes with a small amount of grains for steeping where the Northern Brewer kit has no grains at all.  Other than that the kits are identical.  Same amount of extract (liquid and dry) and same hops.

It will be interesting to see if the kits end up tasting different at all due to the small amount of grain.  I suspect it will be a negligible difference.

Either way I have some Hefe coming and I'm stoked - Hefe is my favorite beer and I'm anxious to see how this stuff works out.  Hefeweizens' aren't very common here in West Virginia so if this kit is any good I might be making this one a regular in the rotation.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On Building a Kegerator

With the semi-recent brewing of our Pliny clone I decided that it was time to take the leap and start kegging instead of bottling.  I really don't like bottling at all so it seemed like a no-brainer to jump to kegging.

I had the money saved up so now was as good a time as any to make the leap.

I started by painting my fridge with chalkboard paint.  I actually did this a couple months ago.  This was pretty easy to do - I just cleaned the front and sides and then painted. A little goo-be-gone took care of the stickers.

I think I probably should have primed the surface as it scratches SUPER easily.  I suspect it would have been more durable if I'd have primed.  I put on about 4 coats to get a good solid coverage.

All of the parts showed up yesterday including my huge 20 pound cylinder (it weighs more than 20lbs empty).  When I left the office yesterday I headed to AirGas to get the cylinder filled/exchanged.  They wouldn't do it but fortunately they recommended a place that they thought might and they did. I headed to Tri-State Oxygen and they hooked me up.  20lb canister fill is $20.  Not too bad.

A friend of mine from Marshall University gave me three free "corny kegs" of the pin lock variety.  Pin Lock kegs were used by Coca-Cola.  Each keg has a couple little stems on it - one for gas input and the other for fluid output.  The two stems have little pins sticking out of the side of them - hence the name pin lock.  The gas stem has two pins and the beer stem has three pins.   It's pretty idiot proof in that regard which is nice.

The downside to getting used kegs is they are dirty.  The inside of the kegs were acutally remarkably clean but when I unscrewed the stems the inside of each stem and the threads on the keg were caked with old dried up soda.  I scrubbed and soaked and scrubbed some more to get the soda residue out.  I used oxy-clean and a brass brush which worked pretty well on the threads.  Just soaking with oxyclean and using a wash cloth was all I had for cleaning the inside of each stem piece.

Poppit - photo from Norther Brewer
Inside each stem is a little stick thing with a spring.  This is called a poppit.  The poppits are kind of wedged in and held in place by their three pronged feet.  They can come out.  I have no idea how to get them back in properly and in trying to force one of mine back in place I broke one of the poppits.  Fortunately, I have three kegs and only one batch of beer. Plus, I only have room in the fridge for two kegs.  I'll replace the poppit or maybe the stems in the future so I can use the third keg for filtering (I don't know how to do that yet either).

I spent about 3 hours cleaning the three kegs.  Maybe longer - I'm not sure.  The black rubber handle and base never seem to stop leaving my hands black.  I'm not entirely convinced they can be truly cleaned.  But the inside and all of the parts/bits that touch my beer are super clean now.  I then sanitized them all as well and re-assembled with some new rubber gaskets.

Each keg has two tubes in them as well. One is really short, maybe 3-4 inches long and the other is as tall as the keg.  I didn't remember which port each tube went with but I deduced that the gas port uses the short tube and the fluid port uses the long.  The long tube can be sort of hard to get back in the keg all the way.  You have to turn it around a bit until it will fully sit into the contour of the bottom of the keg.  It turns out the tube is a little longer than the keg is tall.

Once I had the keg cleaned and sanitized and put back together I siphoned the beer from my carboy into the keg.  This beer went through two dry hop phases so there is a lot of particulate floating around in the beer.
Siphoning the Beer!
Into the Keg

I then rubbed a bunch of keg lube on the lid's gasket and closed it up.  It turns out this doesn't sufficiently seal the keg.  After moving the keg and watching precious IPA seep out around the lids gasket I tried and tried and tried to re-close the lid but nothing I did sealed the keg properly.  I decided I needed the help of the CO2 so I left the beer alone and went to the construction of the kegerator phase of the project.

The first step of building the kegerator - to me - was the riskiest, putting a hole in my fridge.  I measured and measured again and yet again to make sure I'd be happy with where the faucet handle was on the outside of the fridge and where the beer line would enter the door on the inside.  I wanted to keep the door shelves and I wanted the faucet low enough where I could eventually put taller tap handles on without obstructing the freezer door.

I'm, at times, an idiot, and this day was one of those times. I forgot the fridge door was metal.  I didn't really have a tool to drill a 1" wide hole through a metal door.  So I had to stop and drive up to Home Depot and buy a drill bit.  I could have actually bought a 1" bit but I knew I'd never use it again so I bought a 1/2" to hedge my bets.  I also bought a couple sawzall blades and figured I'd start with the 1/2" hole then use the sawzall to expand it enough to fit the fridge conversion kit through.  That plan didn't work out.  I managed the 1/2" pilot hole but I just couldn't trust myself with the sawzall so I ended up using the drill bit and I just routed out the full sized hole I needed.  I only drilled one of them as I was only setting up one keg today.  I probably should have just done both at the same time but I was getting tired, I was hungry, and I was frustrated with myself.  So instead I moved on to hooking up the CO2 regulator to the tank.

The regulator has a little plastic disc hanging on a plastic chain. This disc is a CO2 leak stopper.  The regulator comes with no instructions so the plastic ring really isn't obvious.  I also ordered a brass leak stopper from Midwest Supplies.  The brass one seemed pretty obvious - it is threaded and screws into the CO2 tank nozzle before you put on the regulator.  Except my brass one wouldn't fully screw into the tank - it would only go about half way.  I don't know if I was just cross threading it or what but no matter how many times I tried I couldn't get it to go in.  I then tried to use the plastic disc (after removing it from the plastic string) but I think the way you make the plastic disc face matters.  I'm not really sure but I tried it a few times and no matter what I did when I turned on the CO2 the regulator leaked.  When it leaks it leaks loudly and it makes a scary noise.  It turns out that after you get the regulator hand tight you need to use a wrench and tighten it about another 1/4 turn.  After doing that the regulator didn't leak anymore.

I already had a second usage for my new 1/2" drill bit as I had to put a hole in the side of the fridge to feed the gas line through.  I drilled that then wrapped the end of my gas line in plastic wrap so no fridge insulation found it's way into the tube and shoved it through the hole.  I used some hot water to soften the tubing and then put some clamps on the hose before connecting it to the barb on the regulator.  You really do want to use 3/16" inner diameter tubing with 1/4" barbs.  If you don't soften the tube first it is really hard to put on the barb - but softening the tube worked perfectly.  After getting the hose on the barb I used the screw clamp to secure it and then repeated the process on the two-way gas line splitter I was installing inside the fridge.  At this point I had 3 feet of gas tubing going from the tank to the splitter.  I then cut a six foot hose in half and connected the splitter to the keg's gas input quick disconnect.  At this point I have six feet of CO2 line.  I have no idea if this will be a problem or not.  If it is I'll post a follow-up and try to update this post with a link to it.

At this point I had the CO2 connected to my keg!  I figured I'd try to get a better seal on it.  I turned on the CO2 and saw that I definitely didn't have a good seal on the door and I learned that I needed to connect the fluid line too because even though the fluid poppit wasn't depressed beer still sprayed out of the fluid stem.  I put the fluid quick disconnect on and it came out of that too.  I ran a six foot tube from the fluid disconnect to the tap and fastened them with the screw clamps as well. Then I tried again.  The lid was still leaking but nothing else was spraying beer.  I was so close.

I tried to open and close the lid again - still leaked.  I tried again - still leaked.  I smeared keg lube all over the area where the lid and the keg met - still leaked.  I grabbed the other two lids, sanitized them, smeared them with keg lube and tried again and again and again and again and it still leaked.

I reverted back to my original lid and tried to just hold the lid firmly closed without trying to lock it and I wiggled it around a little and then, suddenly, it shifted just a touch on it's own and sealed.  No leak.  I was able to lock the lid closed without it moving at all.  It was a beer day miracle.  The damn keg was sealed, the CO2 was going in, it was connected to the fridge faucet.. time to test the faucet to make sure there are no leaks.

I ran into the house, grabbed a pint glass, returned to the fridge and pulled the handle.  Beer was in the glass and nowhere else!  From there on it was just a matter of clean up and of putting a couple screws into the splitter to hang it.

When all was said and done it took me about 7.5 hours from the time I left to find a place to fill/exchange my C02 tank to being completely done (including cleaning the carboy).  But writing on the fridge at the end made it all worth while.

I still have to add the second tap and the drip tray.  I didn't have the right screws to hang the tray and it didn't come with any.  NOTE - nothing comes with instructions when you buy it so if you decide to build a kegerator just take your time and it will work out.  If I could do it then, seriously, anyone can.