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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.


An old cooler (free is preferable)

5 ft of polyethelyne tubing

1 nylon barbed T fitting


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?


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)


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



Stike water @ 170F (11 qt)

Rest @ 152F for 60 minutes

Batch Sparge @ 180F (13 qt)



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

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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Summer Ale Racked to Secondary

Posted in Beer on May 11th, 2011 by Chris

I was keeping tabs on the summer ale closely and noticed the fermentation slowing down. So I decided to take a hydrometer reading and guess what … it’s down from 1.052 to 1.015 in 5 days. This is much faster than the kit yeast I’ve been using. So, that meant it was time to rack it into the secondary fermenter. With racking comes tasting, and wow … so far, I’m impressed. The hops flavor and aroma are very intense but bitterness kept low. The color is a nice light copper. If everything keeps on this track, I’ll be very pleased with this beer.

Also, I’m certain I’ll be able to find plenty to do with the Cascade hops I’m growing.

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How to brew beer – partial mash method

Posted in Beer on May 8th, 2011 by Chris

Yesterday, I brewed up a batch of Summer Ale. You can find the updated recipe here.

While I was at it, I decided to document the process. The resulting video probably isn’t new information for anyone who’s been reading my blog but if it can inspire just one more person to start brewing their own beer then it’s well worth the effort to make it.

This video shows how to brew beer using a partial mash method common to the majority of beer kits available for first time brewers.

So without further ado … here you are:

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Herbs in Beer

Posted in Beer on April 27th, 2011 by Chris

We’ve nearly all had a good root beer, or ginger ale … but did you know herbal beer used to be common and touted as healthy? It’s true. In researching unique beer recipes I found out there were a lot more herbal beers than I could have imagined. So, where did they all go and why did hops take hold as the main flavoring ingredient in beer? Before hops became the herb of choice there were many different herbal mixtures used to flavor and bitter beers. The main mixture was called gruit. Guit was a mixture of herbs including horehound, yarrow, ground ivy, mugwort, and more. Some of the ingredients are thought to have medicinal purposes. Hops included, since it has the herbal effect of being a sedative. But, whether known or not … the biggest benefit to herbs in beer is their preservative properties. Of all the herbs used in beer, hops is one of the best preservatives and a good reason why it started to take hold. Another reason hops is used in beer more than any other herb is Reinheitsgebot. Reinheitsgebot, also known as the Bavarian purity law, was first enacted in the 15th century in Germany and stated that only barley, hops, and water were to be used in the making of beer. So, with the Reinheitsgebot in place and improved preservative properties …. the use of hops slowly replaced gruit from the 1300s through the 1500-1600s when they were first grown in England and soon after in America.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, because I want to make some gruit ale of course! With the ability to grown all of the herbs needed here in Ohio, I say “Why not?” Which is why I’ll be starting by planting some horehound this spring.

Quick side note: Hops preservative properties are why IPA has such a hoppy flavor. Originally, it was highly hopped to preserve the beer on the long trip from England to India …. hence, India Pale Ale.

Here is what I plan to try and grow (or find) for my herbal beer and some of the herbal action they are thought to have. I think some might be growing as weeds already … just need to properly identify them and enjoy!

Horehound: Digestive Aid and sore throat soothing
Mugwort: Anthelmintic
Wormwood: Digestive Aid
Yarrow: Astringent and Anti-allergen
Bog Myrtle: Bug repellent, maybe not good for beer but great for the back yard!
Ground Ivy: Anti-inflammatory, among other things, good for sinitus
Stinging Nettle: Dietetic, Anti-allergen

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Brewing Updates

Posted in Beer, Wine on April 20th, 2011 by Chris

It’s been a while since I posted. Life has been busy but good. Here are a few updates into my brewing activities.

First, the most exciting for me, is that the grapes I propagated while I was pruning seem to be doing good. There are two that I am experimenting with different techniques. The first, I had laying on the ground for a year so that it could put roots down. I cut it loose from the main plant. Second, I pushed a small piece of cut vine into the ground and a few buds in the dirt and a few above ground. Fortunately, both seem to have worked because the buds are swelling and should burst open with some leaves. I snapped a quick pictures while I was checking up on them.

Next, the maple wine is past due for another racking but it’s looking good. The color is staying and it’s starting to clear. I’ll probably rack it Saturday and give it a quick taste. It should be nearly completely fermented at this point and aging for flavor. Last year the flavor was harsh this early and so it had to age nearly a year. This batch seemed to be doing better for some reason or another so I’m hoping it’s keeping along those lines when I go to rack it again. Best case, I’ll only have to age it a few months. Worst case, it’ll age a year same as the 2010 wine.

Lastly, Ii was camping with some friends last weekend. We shared home-brews, stories, and new ideas. I picked up a free cooler I plan to make into a mash tun for trying my hand at all grain brewing.I’ll be sure to document the process for you guys as I make that transition. Also came home with enough ideas to keep my brain busy for quite a while.

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