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Short on posts

Posted in Uncategorized on July 9th, 2011 by Chris

Just wanted to leave a quick note and let you know I’m still around … I am short on time recently. We just got back from camping and will turn right around for another vacation soon. Plus, while we were packing for camping the electricity in the barn went out and the car got a flat. So, two days back from camping and the flat is fixed and the barn is half way done being re-wired. Needless to say, that doesn’t leave me any time for brewing … sadly, I know.

Here are a few things to look forward to in the near future though …

-How to control japanese beetles on your grapes (video)

-Racking the Wee Heavy into a secondary

-Brewing up a batch of all grain Hefeweizen

-Much much more … (as always)

How to make a cheap mash tun

Posted in Beer on July 1st, 2011 by Chris

Alright, so I made a mash tun … I did a lot of searching on the internet for the simplest design to make and maintain. Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with any of the designs out there so I took a stab at making my own.

There were two basic designs for “simple” mash tuns I found in my search.

1. Using a CPVC manifold and brass ball valve. This one seemed sturdy enough. I was hesitant though as it seems like it would be difficult to clean under the rigid CPVC manifold. Also, the brass valve cost more than the entirety of my design.

2. Using a stainless water supply line and an in-line valve. I like the idea of stainless since it’s inert but making it seemed more complicated (removing the inner tube from the drain line and replacing with a coiled wire for support). And, again …. I’m leery about how easy it is to clean. Yeah, I’m lazy and want to make everything easy ….

So, after a lot of thinking …. I thought I had it all figured out. Then I went to the hardware store and stood in the isle looking at all the fittings and had an epiphany. The result, I think you will find, is the cheapest and simplest mash tun design so far.

Parts

An old cooler (free is preferable)

5 ft of polyethelyne tubing

1 nylon barbed T fitting

Tools

A sharp knife

 

The process …. watch and see for yourself.

 

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First try at all-grain brewing

Posted in Beer on June 26th, 2011 by Chris

Yesterday, I made my first attempt at all-grain brewing. Things went well enough, but I did make a few mistakes. Luckily, nothing that should prevent the final product from turning out good … just weaker than I had hoped. Here are the results and some thoughts. On a side note, I’ll be updating the Wee Heavy recipe to reflect actual usage. I will also be adding a glossary page, a suggestion from my wife after proof-reading this post.

The first thing I did was weigh out the ingredients. To weigh the maple syrup, I zeroed out the scale with an empty jar. Then, weighed the maple syrup. Turns out a pint is about one pound, so that’s what I used. The grains I weighed all at once adding 2 oz at a time of each of the specialty grains. While I was measuring everything out, I got the strike water on the burner. I used 9 qts of strike water at 170F. After mashing in, the temperature had dropped to 150F, so I added in the extra 2 qts that I already had on the burner just in case that happened. But regardless, it still ended up at 152 F … 3 degrees shy of where I was targeting.Either way, there was nothing more to be done … so I let it sit for 60 minutes.

The most interesting thing about the mash tun was that, without a valve, some of the wort was in the drain tube while it was steeping. So I could see it darkening with time. I tried to take a picture but the pictures really doesn’t do it justice.

After the 6o minutes were up, I drained the wort into a bucket. The SG was 1.066 @ 150 F which corrects to 1.086. But, after draining, I measured only 1 gallon of wort (with nearly 3 gallons going in). So, I tried to make up for that with additional sparge water. I heated 13 qts of sparge water to 180 F and dumped it in. I quickly realized it was more water than I had thought, but it was too late to go back now. I stirred it up really well and let it settle for 10 minutes before draining. The sparge water came out at a SG of 1.020 @ 152 F which corrects to 1.039. This was lower than I had hoped, but I think it was because I used too much sparge water.

With that out of the way, the rest was no different than previous batches of beer. I brought the wort up to a boil and added in the hops. During the boil, I also added the maple syrup. After terminating the boil, I took another gravity reading and it was 1.071. I was targeting 1.09, so it’s lower than I had hoped, but in the end that still works out to about 7% alcohol so it should still be good … just not the 11% Wee Heavy that I was targeting.

Final thoughts: The grain absorbed more water than I had anticipated, so next time go heavy on the strike water . It also lost a few degrees more than I had thought, so error higher … you can always let it cool down. And lastly, add only enough strike water to get up to the final volume targeted. On a bright note, the $5 mash tun worked perfectly! So, I’ll go ahead and work through the how-to video and get that posted within the next few days.

So, for anyone wanting to try all-grain … good luck! I hope my mistakes help someone make a better batch of beer. I plan to make another batch soon, so it should go much smoother then.

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Simple Mash Tun

Posted in Beer on June 18th, 2011 by Chris

Today I put together a cheap, simple mash tun. I spent under $5 for the entire thing. I’ll do a how-to write up in the near future after I use it a few times to make sure I like the final product. Once I do that I’ll add a link on this post, so if there is no link … there is no how-to yet!

The parts consist of only an old cooler, some tubing, and a tee fitting.

I got the cooler from a friend for free. It looked pretty nasty inside with rust stains and spot. A few minutes scrubbing with an acid wash cleaner and it all but disappeared. You can see the before and after pictures below.

The tubing I used was polyethylene e so it is food grade and I’ve used it before for other things (like maple sap).

Next up, all grain brewing!

Enjoy some pictures.

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Aging Beer

Posted in Beer on June 17th, 2011 by Chris

Just to clear the air, I’m not talking about your Grandpa’s beer, or walkers and canes … I’m talking about aging beer like you would age a fine wine. To bring out the complex flavors, subtle notes, and tame the wildness of a fresh red wine. And the same things that make a good aging wine (sweet, strong reds) make for a great aging beer. The stout I brewed is strong, malty, and full of complex flavors. More flavor that some like in fact …. so when I was down to a single 6 pack I decided to stash it out of site withe with Wild Red wine aging in our pantry.

Now, it’s been three months since I stashed it away and I’m pulling the first out for a try. I hope to keep them in there and pull one out over the next year and a half as an experiment to see what happens. Will is age well? Will it continue to improve or reach a plateu? Will it start to go bad eventually? (Skunky stout sounds really bad)

So, what is the result after three months?

Good.

When I first bottled this stout, the oak flavors came through the maltyness nicely. But, once it had carbonated it was overpowered by the heavy stout. With age, that all seems to be evening out. At first sip there is a rush of malty oak flavor, followed by a subtle bitterness in the back of the mouth. The oak comes back as a lingering flavor, slowly fading until the next sip.

When it was fresh, one stout was all I could take because the malt flavors seemed to linger and build over the course of the glass. Now, they seem to have mellowed a bit to the point where it’s finishing more cleanly and I could keep going … especially it was wasn’t so tired.

Looking forward to my next stout in another three months … *sigh*

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MacKay Clan Wee Heavy

Posted in Beer on June 7th, 2011 by Chris

UPDATE:  I edited the recipe to reflect what I actually did, even though it didn’t match my target. It’s in the primary right now so if it doesn’t turn out good, I’ll make a note here. Expect to see another try soon.

 

So, this is all about brewing experiments …  so, let’s go all out.

My next batch will be my first try at all grain brewing. And, it’ll be a 2 gallon batch of Wee Heavy. I know … livin’ on the edge, right?

Here is my planned recipe, I’ll update it as needed and welcome any comments.

MacKay Clan Wee Heavy (3.5 gal)

Ingredients:

10 lb – American 2 row malt

1/8 lb – Peated malt

1/2 lb – Biscuit malt

1/8 lb – Roasted Barley

1/8 lb – Black Patent malt

1 lb – Pure Maple Syrup

1/4 oz Centennial hops (45 min)

1/4 oz Cascade hops (15 min)

1/4 oz Cascade hops (5 min)

Scottish Ale Yeast

 

Method:

Stike water @ 170F (11 qt)

Rest @ 152F for 60 minutes

Batch Sparge @ 180F (13 qt)

 

Outcome:

OG: 1.071

FG:  1.024  (est.)

Bitterness: 17 IBU

Color: 20 SRM

Any thoughts, comments, or suggestion are welcome!

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Summer Ale is ready

Posted in Beer on May 29th, 2011 by Chris

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I was outside working today. We got 10 cubic yards of mulch delivered this week and the weather had turned hot. So, I spent most of the day in the near 90 degree humid Ohio weather. I was chugging Gatorade like there was no tomorrow … but do you know what I really wanted? An ice cold beer …

It’s been a week since I bottled my Summer Ale and I’ve already had a couple … even though it wasn’t done carbonating. Well, tonight when I cracked open a beer, I heard that familiar “pssst” of a beer that’s ready to go. So, I snapped a quick picture and proceeded to drink it down. If there was ever a definition of “drinkable” … this beer fits the bill. With a simple malt profile and only cascade hops, it is an enjoyable beer to drink (even luke warm as it was … ). As so, as I write this, there is a second on chilling in the fridge for further enjoyment.

Final conclusion, I would change nothing …

Recipe here.

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Why brew your own?

Posted in Beer on May 24th, 2011 by Chris

I’ve been asked a number of times “Why brew your own when you can just go down to the store and buy a six pack?” The reasons are endless, so here I will make a sad attempt at naming a few to address that question.

First, and foremost, home brewed beer can and does taste better than anything you can buy at the local grocery. Sure, there are some good beers out there … maybe even a couple great ones. But, who knows what you like better than you? So, who better to make a beer you like? Home brewers can pick their own malts, hops, yeast, boiling times (bitterness) in addition to any number of other ingredients for flavor. You can try flavors and styles you can’t buy even if you wanted to because the fact is … some styles of beer just don’t travel well or bottle well.

Second, it’s cheap. Even using overpriced beer kits you can easily beat the price of ‘average’ beers from the store.  Let’s take for example a simple light lager kit at $25. Making roughly 50 beers, that works out to 50 cents a beer. Better quality ingredients, better tasting beer, for less …. how is that possible? Typically, the massive scale of big business is hard to beat for price and value. Here is one case where homemade has a big advantage. The reason is because of the huge burden tossed onto the industry by the government. Brewers are taxed per facility for the honor of brewing beer. Distributers must pay fees to be able to distribute frothy golden goodness to the masses. Restaurants and stores pay taxes and licensing fees before they’re approved for selling beer. And, finally … you, the consumer, pay sales tax. So, while the average buyer thing they’re paying the standard 6% or 8% in sales tax, it goes much deeper than that. Hence, you can buy some high quality ingredients and brew your own awesome beer for cheaper than buying you own and ‘stick it to the man’ while you’re at it!

Third, you know what’s in it. Did you ever look at your beer from the store? Turn it around, check the case …. see an ingredient list? No? Me either. So, what could go wrong in your beer? Not much, water, hops, malted grain, yeast … but the fact of the matter is that you really don’t know. The only way to know for sure is to know your ingredients. Know the water source, know the grains, know the yeast, etc. Is it healthier? Probably not. Is it peace of mind? For me … yes. Additionally, with my goal of growing my own ingredients … it means I can know what’s in the soil, what variety of grains were grown (GMO or not), what chemicals were used to fertilize the hops and grains, and so on. Am I paranoid? Sure. But, I’ll also make the best organic freakin’ beer out there given enough time.

Lastly, as with doing anything on your own, it comes with a sense of pride and an increased knowledge. Making things with my own two hands makes me feel good. Home repairs, fixing the car, digging up a garden, planting trees, restoring a tractor, welding up some sheet metal, planing down some raw wood, cooking up a perfect meal … it’s all the same feeling. The sense of accomplishment at a finished project is one of the best feelings out there. Akin to these is the sense of pride as you drink that first beer from a new batch of beer. Smelling the flavors you chose to combine, seeing the color produced by the malted grains and the frothy head from your choice of yeast … it’s something every honest beer drinking person should experience. In addition to this comes increased knowledge. Brewing beer well takes research, reading, discussion, and hands on experience. Yet, it’s easy enough that you can buy a kit, follow the instructions, and get good beer right away. It is simple to learn, yet difficult to master. The more you learn more about the process, you’ll likely be even more intrigued. It’s a viscous cycle. Yet, the knowledge you’ll learn is something that’s been past down through millennia of brewers since the beginning of history. If you’re lucky enough to have children … someday, you can pass that knowledge on to them. If there was ever a meaning to life … creating things, and teaching things would rank near the top for me. Turns out, becoming a home brewer accomplishes both.

Is beer the center of the meaning of life? You decide.

 

 

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New ways to share

Posted in Uncategorized on May 22nd, 2011 by Chris

I just installed a new app for the website that allows users to share my articles on all sorts of social media websites. So, if you like one of my articles, I’d encourage you to check out the row of icons at the bottom and share away.

One of my favorites is StumbleUpon. If you have ADD and love wasting time on the internet, there is no better site than stumbleupon. When you share an article, it will go into a category. Once it’s loaded into their category people can stumble onto it. When you’re Stumbling, you select a category and click ‘Stumble’. This sends you to an article based on your category and previous ‘likes’. For example, I’ll select ‘homebrewing’ … click ‘stumble’ … and a few hours later I’ve learned some cool home brew techniques. (And wasted a couple hours away on the computer).

Hops and Kiwi Update

Posted in Beer, Wine on May 21st, 2011 by Chris

The little hop and kiwi plants are starting to stretch out in search of something to grow on. Today, I helped them along with some simple structures. If all goes well this year, I will build something more permanent for them to grow on. For this year though, I wanted something simple and quick.

For the hops, my hope it to have them grow up strings along the side of my barn. I put two hitching rings about 25′ up on the side of my barn. I ran some twine down to some metal hoops I made from scrap steel rod. That way, at the end of the year, I can cut down the twine and throw the whole mess on the compost pile. The hope vine is very rough and grips the twine quite well.

For the kiwi, I ran more twine from the grape arbor to the fence such that it passed directly over the kiwi plants. For added support, I put two stakes in the ground (one at each plant) and secured the line of twine to the stake. The kiwi vines are really spreading out quickly with all the rain we’ve had recently.

As for permanent structures, the hops might require more secure ground anchors and the jute twine will not last more than a year. So, long term better ground ancors and rope are the only thing needed. The kiwi is a different story. I plan to replace the grape arbor and when I do, I’ve lined up the kiwi plants with the existing grape vine so that I can put in posts on either end and run stainless lines for both the grapes and kiwi to grow on for years to come. Of course, all that is pending this years outcome.

With any luck, I’ll get a few kiwi and a handful of hops … but being realistic, this year is more of a test run to understand what I’ll need to provide for the plants next year to get a good harvest. And with a good harvest comes kiwi wine and fresh hop beer!

Here are some pictures. I also took some pictures of the grapes. One is showing the “one year grown” I pruned last year, leaving three buds. You can see the new grown came from those buds. The next is showing the baby grape clusters on the new growth.

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