Friday, September 6, 2013

Priming Sugar Calculator

Something that I have noticed with our homebrew is over-carbonation. I have had 3 batches be so carbonated that during the pour I end up with 3/4 head no matter the speed I pour. Hopefully this calculator will help us out a little bit. Priming sugar calculator

Friday, August 16, 2013

Temp Controller - Getting Gadgety

In our brewing sessions we mostly brew at my house (Bill's) but we also brew at Mike's.  We've consistently had a better end result in beer when we ferment at Mike's house.  Curious about this I've narrowed it down to the fact that Mike is able to keep the beer in a room with a consistent temperature the entire time while I keep having to shift the beer around to try to find a good consistent temperature due to a variety of external factors not the least of which is my wife and the thermostat.

To cure this problem I've decided to buy a temperature controller and attempt to setup a fermentation chamber so that I can keep the bucket at the right temp for the beer being brewed.  I settled on the BrewBit which is probably more than I need but I'm a bit of a gadget freak so I figured, "What the hell?"

I have a small dorm style fridge that I think will be big enough to hold the bucket (I hope) and, if so, I'll be using that as my chamber.  If not I'll have to find something better (suggestions are more than welcome).  As the controller can manage two heat sources and our weather is inconsistent to say the least I figured I'd put the fridge on it and then drop a small hair dryer in the fridge and use that as the other heat source.  The brewbit could then cool or warm the interior of the fridge based on the current situation.

The last two beers we brewed at my house just haven't tasted right to me and I've been reluctant to brew again until I could improve the environmental controls a bit.  I hope I don't have to wait too long to get the brew bit becuase I'd like to get back at it. I figure I'll do a couple more extract kits and if they work out better than it will be time to try some all grain recipes.  If that works then I have my eyes on building a keezer.

Here is the inspiration for the fermentation chamber in the video:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Critter Cutter Bottle Openers - Update

Last month I received my kickstarter bottle openers - the Critter Cutters.  In my prior posting I generally had good things to say about them.  I feel like I should retract some of the goodwill and give a heads up to those people considering buying them.

First off, they are still pretty cool bottle openers.  However, if you are buying one don't get the QPQ coated one (it's the black one).  It was my favorite and first choice when ordering them but the black one seeps out some kind of nasty brown oil.  Supposedly giving it a baking soda bath will stop that from happening but I can't get mine to stop.  I've given it two 12+ hour baking soda and water baths and then a 48 hour rest just in baking soda and it continues to seep.  It's pretty disgusting and will definitely stain anything you leave it resting on.  The small magnet I was using to adhere it to my fridge with is even discolored now.

The folks at Critter Cutter were pretty responsive once I contacted them directly (as opposed to a comment on the kickstarter project) and they sent me a replacement stainless steel one.  They could have sent me either the stainless steel or "rainbow" option - I didn't really care.  I just wanted one that wouldn't stain and seep.  The bad part about the stainless steel option is that it isn't magnetic so I have nowhere to store the new one around my beer fridge.  I might tie a nut or something to a bit of twine and thread it through the Critter Cutter eye so I can hang it on the fridge magnet.

Anyway, just avoid the QPQ coated Critter Cutter (the black one) and if you need a magnetic bottle opener get The Gropener instead which comes with a built in magnet.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Critter Cutter Bottle Openers

I've now participated in two separate kick starter campaigns to back bottle openers.  The first was the Gropener which is a bottle open I really dig.

The second was the Critter Cutter.  At my backing level I received three of the opener.  The first is the standard one, the second is a rainbow nitride coating, and the final was a black out nito-carbonizing coating.  All three look really nice in person.

The nice thing about the three piece package is there are three of us in the Hops Alchemy group; myself, Mike, and Jason.  Thus I gave Mike the rainbow coated one, Jason the standard one, and I kept the black one.

If you like the Critter Cutter you can buy them online - they are very sturdy so I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spent Grain Bread

Here is a photo of some spent grain bread we made from the grains of our Brown and Red ale double brew day.  I don't have the recipe handy but when I find it I'll post it as well.

Blue Moon Clone Brew Day

So far in our brewing we haven't been very experimental.  We put some chocolate in a bock last year and that was about it.  The rest of the time we've stuck to the kit recipe and hoped for the best.  However, our last brew day was a new day for minor experimentation - we decided to make a blue moon clone using a Belgian wheat ale extract kit as a base.

Basically all we added into the kit was some crushed coriander and some orange zest.  Coriander is pretty cool.  Neither Mike nor I had ever crushed coriander before so we were unaware of the transformation of the scent of the spice.  In the intact state the pellets smelled very similar to cumin.  However, after crushing it the fragrance shifted from savory to a floral bouquet.  It was awesome and the new scent seemed perfect for the beer.

We love smelling the different ingredients so this shift was really cool.  One of our favorite parts of brewing is breaking out the hops and smelling it.  This batch hardly had any hops but the small packet of Willamette still smelled great.

Of course all brew days require that we drink some home brew so we busted out a few different bottles.  I'm not even sure what this one was but it has a nice color and head to it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Gropener

Honestly, the name of this bottle opener, the gropener,  isn't good - many of my friends feel the "Grope" part is a little lewd and get a good chuckle every time I mention it.  However, it's a kick ass bottle opener.

The little hook on the left will pry off pretty much any bottle cap whether it is a pry off or twist off and, best of all, it doesn't crimp the cap at all.   It's pretty slick.  The little shiny circle is a nice and fairly strong magnet that catches the cap so you don't have to worry about catching the cap yourself.  Here is a video of me using it.

As you can see it is a one handed operation.  That is kind of nice too because I can quickly open the bottle and then start drinking all in one fluid motion if I want.

It's a little expensive for a bottle opener ($20) but it's a cool little device and it's a great conversation piece. Plus it's a cool gift to give any beer lover.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Double Brewday Afternoon

This past saturday the Hops Alchemy gang got together for a double brew day!  We are still learning a lot so we are still using liquid malt extract (LME) kits.  This brew event featured a Red Ale by Brewers Best and a Brown Ale by Midwset.

The day started out in a pretty haphazard way.  I couldn't find the lid to my fermentation bucket.  I searched all over the garage but couldn't find it until I went to the basement to get my kettle and I saw the last batch we bottled patiently carbonating on the shelves.  We had potentially overfilled four bottles and I had put them in a second bucket with my fermentation lid on it just in case they blew.  The bottles were fine so I took them and the lid upstairs along with the kettle.

Once upstairs Mike and his cousin Jason showed up with the Brown Ale kit, some tools, and a case of assorted beer along with a collection of bottles from the Fat Tire clone (Flat Tire) we had recently made.  They did not, however, bring a kettle or their burner.  I noticed the missing burner so sent them back around the blocks to Mikes to get it.  I searched all over for my second kettle but couldn't find it so then they had to go back again to get their kettle.  At least I had a nice new full propane tank for them to use!

The next arrival was Derrick and his family along with some really high gravity beers for us to drink while we brewed.  Derrick is a biochemist and he has offered to measure our IBUs in the future.  I'm pretty stoked to discover this capability in the group!  Our final arrivals were Jason and his girlfriend Lindsay and we were ready to get to brewing.

We setup both boiling stations in the garage close to the door.  I normally would brew in my backyard when the weather is as nice as it was on Saturday but my patio (that I installed) isn't that level and I really only have on great place to put a boiler out there so we set up in the garage and just kept the door open through the day.

We started drinking right away which, honestly, wasn't the smartest plan.  We were sharing each bottle so we can each sample all of the beers we had brought or that I already had there.  By the end of the day we had each sampled just about 19 beers.  We tracked them all on untappd so if you're curious here is my profile.  This quick dive into drinking led us to not read the instructions.  We totally missed the fact that we were supposed to let the water get to roughly 160 and then maintain that temp after adding our grain.  We brought both kettles to boil.  We tossed the brown ale grain bag in the water and then realized what we had done.  We let the red ale water cool down to about 170 before adding that grain bag in.   According to the instructions letting the grains steep at the 200+ temp means we will leach more tannins into the beer so we've jokingly decided to call the Brown an Imperial Brown.

From there on everything went really well.  We put some of the Sloppy Lion King Belgian and some of the Knotty Octopus Alt Bier in the red ale during the boil.  We do this to carry some of all of the old batches forward through every new batch.  We had forgot to put the Alt into the Belgian's boil so we had to put a bit of each into this one so that none of the ancestry is lost.  I'm not a huge fan of how the Alt came out so I put a bit more of the Belgian in than I did the Alt.

Not only were we making beer but we also were making custom pizzas.  We like to make sure everyone gets plenty of food while over for brew time so we had the bread machine working overtime all morning cranking out pizza dough.  We then took turns rotating through the kitchen crafting our own custom pizzas with the smorgasbord of toppings everyone provided.  It was a great meal and it really went well with the copious amounts of beer we were drinking.

Eventually the brewing was done so we moved into the kitchen to transfer to the fermentation buckets.  After siphoning the red ale into it's bucket I quickly sealed it up and put the air lock on the top.  As I started to carry it away I was reminded that I still need to add enough water to reach the five gallon mark.  The brown ale was topped off and they were able to read their original gravity (OG) without a problem and it seemed to be right where it was supposed to be.  I had a ton of trouble reading the gauge on the red (too many bubbles in the brew) so I'm really not sure what the OG is on it.  Hopefully it was in the right range.  If not who knows what we will end up with?

Finally I carted the buckets down to the basement where they get to sit for a bit before they will move to secondary. The red will be moving this Thursday evening right before I attend a home brewers social at a local pizza joint.  That should be a fun and educational night.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How To: Yeast Starter

Here is another handy image I picked up from reddit today.  It covers a basic home brew skill - yeast starting(?) and was lifted from  We've not done this before but I think we are getting close to the point where we will be giving it a go.

Quick additional tip thanks to Carla Rosenfeld on G+ - a Yeast Pitching Calculator via  A second calculator that you might prefer is at YeastCalc - thanks to Scott Olsen on G+ for the pointer.

So, for our reference here it is:

Hop Varieties and Their Character

I just came across this great graphic on reddit which is attributed to the Intuition Ale Works brewery (at least the guy on reddit says that is where he first saw it).

The diagram is based on John Palmer's Hop Wheel and was redesigned and updated by Tim Kreitz.  I don't know either guy but I appreciate the effort.

I've mostly put this here for our future reference just in case the imgur link that was on reddit dies.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blue Ox Chocolate European Bock Label

This was the first beer label Shannon drew.  It is for our Blue Ox Bock.  It was named the Blue Ox because our friend Gabe was in town and helped with the brewing.  You may still be confused as to what Gabe has to do with a blue ox - well I mis-remembered Paul Bunyan's blue ox's name.  The blue ox is actually named Babe.

Anyway Gabe is a big guy; so he is kind of Paul Bunyan-esque so it still works out in my mind - thus we have our Blue Ox.

So far this is the first and only beer we've experimented with the recipe.  As the boil was happening I found a dark chocolate bar in my cabinet - it was a pretty big bar but it had a low fat content while still having a decent sugar content.  I think it was a Ghirardelli bar.  We tossed it into the boil and we lucked out as it tasted pretty good.  As the beer warmed up a little the chocolate notes really popped out nicely.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Flat Tire is carbonating.

I bottled the Flat Tire Ale this past weekend. After racking from secondary back in to the fermenting bucket everything went rather smoothly. I have to say that the bottle rinser and drying tree are worth their weight in gold. My total yield was 8-32oz bottles and 21-16oz bottles, from a little over 4.5 gallons. I am a big fan of the swing top bottles even though they cost a lot more. I have been trying to get Grolsch bottles when I can. I'm not a big fan of Grolsch though so my first few batches were from purchased EZ-Cap bottles at about $100 per batch.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I'm a Grumpy Monk

Today I had a tasty Belgian style IPA by Sam Adams called The Grumpy Monk.  I use Untappd to track my brews (so far I've had 444 distinct beers; find me as finalcut on untappd).    I enjoyed it and logged the beer on Untappd.  When I got back to work I told me co-workers about the beer and they wanted to know a bit more about it so I searched for it on Google.

I followed the first result to the Sam Adams page for Grumpy Monk and lo and behold my tweet of my check-in was on the Grumpy Monk home page.  Silly for me to be excited about that I know (it is automatic after all) but I didn't expect to see my name on their website today.

Anyway, I'm so geeky about it here is a screenshot of my beer moment in the sun - I'm in the top of the right column.

By the way the Grumpy Monk is pretty damn tasty.   Much better than the standard Sam Adams Boston Lager.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sloppy Belgian Lion King Triple Label

In my story about the big spill I talked about the beer label my daughter made for the Sloppy Belgian Lion King Triple we brewed (and spilled).  Well here is the label as promised.

This was the first label where she incorporated a beer bottle - a theme which she carried over into the Sweethearts Red Raccoon Ale.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sweethearts Raccoon Red Ale Label

As I mentioned previously my daughter is designing our labels and she puts an animal on each one.  I don't have photos handy of the others but I do have a photo of the original art she created for the next batch we will be brewing - a Red Ale.

We named it Sweethearts Raccoon Red for mostly obvious reasons.  The Sweethearts part is because we are brewing it this month and thus it is sort of tied to Valentines Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Big Spill

In January of 2013 we attempted to brew a Belgian Triple.  It's a liquid malt extract (LME) kit from Brewer's Best.  This brewing session ended up with my buying some new brewing gear for the group.  Here's how it went down.

On brew day it was cold out.  Real cold for our area so we decided to brew in my garage instead of on the back yard patio where we normally do things.  Fortunately, as things go, the decision to brew in the garage was a good one.  However, our burner wasn't good at all.  In fact it was a piece of crap.  I had bought it at Target last January after having received my beginners kit for Christmas.  The burner came as part of a turkey frying system and it had a couple safety features on it that really made it unsuitable for beer brewing.

There were two problems with the burner.  The first was a timer that would automatically shut off the flame after 15 minutes of continuous usage.  I'm not even sure how you're supposed to fry a turkey with that insane add-on.  The second was a button that you had to press in order to light the fire.  Unfortunately, more often than not the fire would go out if you ever stopped pressing the button.  Thus, we had to use a hand clamp to keep the button depressed throughout the boil process.  At least I had removed the timer a couple days before brew day so we didn't have to deal with that scheduled shut off anymore.  However, I never felt particularly comfortable having the hand clamp holding the button down.  It just felt wrong.

After our brew session for the Belgian Triple I ordered a new Bayou Classic SQ 14 from amazon.  It is a 16" square burner that puts out a reported 150,000 BTUS!  It is super stable feeling and it certainly cranks out some flame if you open the valve all the way.  Plus it has a small adjustment that you can use to control the oxygen mix so you can get a bluer (truer) flame.  Overall it's pretty sweet and I'm looking forward to using it on our next brew day.

I also bought a new fermenting bucket.  The bucket I had, which came with my starter kit, served the dual role of being a fermenting bucket and a bottling bucket - thus it had a valve on it.  Since we have used the secondary fermentation process in a glass carboy every time we've brewed only having one bucket has worked out okay.  But, it turns out there is a different risk associated with having a valve on the fermenting bucket.

My basement is a little too cold in the winter for the fermentation process so we have been using the bathroom on my third floor.  It's a long winding climb to get up there and, once you get past the second floor you have to climb a flight of carpeted stairs.  As I was carrying the fermenting bucket up that last flight of stairs my knee hit the bottling valve.  It didn't open the valve - that would have been good - instead it broke it clean off right at the bucket.  In that instant at least a half of a gallon of beer spewed out of the hole that now existed at the bottom of the side of the bucket.  At least the lid was on so I was able to quickly tip the bucket as far to the other side as possible to stop the flow - but it was too late really because the third floor instantly reeked of freshly brewed Belgian Triple.

Fortunately, for that batch of beer, I had another bottling bucket that a friend had lent me about a year ago and it had a spigot on it that still sealed that bucket.  We quickly transferred the beer into a temporary bucket (a clean and sanitized Jimmy Johns pickle bucket) then we cleaned and sanitized the second spigot and installed it in the original bucket (I don't have a lid for either of the other buckets).  Once the new spigot was installed and the beer returned to the fermenting bucket I placed the brew into the shower for it's week of first stage fermentation.

My wife was a great sport and she came up and even volunteered to steam clean the carpet while we headed back downs stairs to finish cleanup of the brew area.

Two days later when my wife was in Ashland she also stopped off and bought me a new bottling bucket from our local supply store. As well as a few other goodies like an auto-sieve and a wine-thief.

So far this is the only time we've lost any beer in the process.  We just bottled that batch this past weekend and it smelled and tasted pretty good (though I don't think it is anywhere near the 9% alcohol we expected or was advertised).  There is a TON of sugar in the kit (including what appeared to be rock candy) so we're not sure how we failed to get good conversion to alcohol but I think we're at about 5.5%.  I was unable specific gravity after secondary fermentation because my daughter accidentally broke the hydrometer.

We've named this batch the "Sloppy Belgian Lion King" due to all the mishaps.  My daughter designs a new label for each of our batches and she includes an animal with each.  Plus, we brewed this batch on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  I'll post a photo of her label design soon (plus all of the prior labels she's come up with).

-- this is a retelling of a previously blogged event that I had posted on my personal blog.

Belly Up To The Bar

Welcome to our blog.  Seeing as you've found us I guess I should take a moment to explain what we are doing and what types of stories/articles/posts you can hope to find here.

First and foremost we will be posting about our brewing experiences   When we started this blog we didn't have much experience brewing - we'd brewed a collection of Liquid Malt Extract (LME) kits.  By the time you found the site there is a chance we had ventured into the world of All Grain kits as well as, maybe, even a recipe of our own.  You'll have to explore a bit to find out where we are at in our beer brewing adventures.

At the start of the blog there were three authors - there might be more or less as time goes on - who knows?  But, the first three were Bill, Jason, and Mike.  We know each other because we work together and we each enjoy the process and camaraderie of home brewing.

Every post on this site will deal with brewing in one fashion or another.  Mike is making his own wine too so he may (or may not) post about his wine making as well.  At a minimum you'll see stories about us brewing beer - we'll even post some photos.  Some of our stories will probably involve us failing or just making a huge mess.  Hopefully the majority will involve us finding success, learning a bunch, and making a gallons of tasty beer.

Please subscribe to our rss feed or our twitter feed if you'd like to get updates about when we post new stuff.