Monthly Archives: April 2011

Brewing Software: Non-intimidating, Practical Homebrewer Tool

As I mentioned in the post about the saison I recently made, I’ve started using brewing software as a sort of preparation/planning tool for making my beers. I’d always (i.e., since I’d started brewing) heard of brewing software and, not being much of a computer guy, was pretty dismissive of the entire idea. So then finally on a lark I downloaded some open-source brewing software, Brewtarget, and fooled around with it for a little while. Again, I’m not much of a computer whiz so my fooling around on the computer usually resembles the opening scene of 2001–after a few days of slapping and backing away, nudging and backing away, I figure out how the damn thing works. Just with no Also Sprach Zarathustra playing in the background.

Full disclosure: I watched a youtube video tutorial on how to use Brewtarget. It doesn’t have sound, but it is pretty helpful.

So but here’s why I’m telling you about Brewtarget: if you don’t use brewing software, you should. Regardless of what level you’re brewing at–all-grain 10 gallons batches or beginner 5 gallon extract batches–brewing software comes in pretty handy. Let me clarify in the most unconcise way possible.

Brewing software is fuckin neat.

It can help you plan a beer and keep a consistent record of your brewing process, but it will do this only if you are attentive to the data you put in the program. It is still just a computer program. So you have to make sure that you input the temp. you mash at, or the temp. you steep specialty grains at if you’re extract brewing. You still have to input the amount of extract/grains and hops you use. Basically, the software can be a great record of the beers you make, but you still have to have a certain amount of record-keeping bones in your body for it to be worth it.

basic brewtarget screenshot--overview of the beer up top and fermentables down low. I know this is way too small to see what the hell is going on, so click on it to see it in legible form

Also, brewing software, when used correctly, can help you do the math of beer making. That is to say that you can input variables (i.e., mash temp., amount of extract or hops, boil time, & c.) and it will calculate how much water you need to start the mash, how bitter the beer will be, how caloric the beer will be, and how much wort you’ll have after an hour boil. Now these are all values that are less than hard to derive without this software, but for the mathematically disinclined, having a calculator to do the work is pretty handy. If you’re at all interested in creating your own beer recipes, this software will knock some of the guesswork out.

Brewing software also will formulate your recipe and brewday instructions so you can print them out and use them as a guide while making beer. It’s just like getting instructions with a kit, except that you made the instructions and picked out the ingredients. Even though you might not really need instructions, they’re not a bad fall-back crutch to have around. Especially if you like to start cracking open homebrews when you start homebrewing.

There are lots of options for brewing software out there on the ole’ internet, and I’ve only really played around with Brewtarget. Which it’s an open-source software (and to me, if you can get something open-source, all the better (for more reasons than just it being free (which most aren’t germane here), open-source seems like the best option for software, to me)), and you can grab up, for not too many bucks, lots of those other options. I’d figure that most of the other options operate comparably to Brewtarget–there’re probably a few perks/conveniences depending on which one you get, but they all do basically the same thing. And at the end of the brewday, you make the beer, not your computer (i.e., your computer doesn’t make the beer, not that you don’t make your computer).

I’ll be honest, I’d always thought brew software was dorky, unnecessary computer antics that just complicated what didn’t need complication. I’m now a fan. This software can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be. You can use it as much or as little as you like. In short, it’s just the same as any computer software–the software itself isn’t what makes or breaks the end result, the user does.

So until the robot apocalypse arrives, your computer is still just a helping hand you can make do your bidding. Make it do your homebrewing bidding.

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Brewed Slowly: # 14 California Common (Steam Beer)

One of my favorite beers is Anchor Brewery’s Anchor Steam beer, which is a type of beer often known as a California Common. My buddy, Steve, made one of these beers a couple of years ago, and it turned out pretty damn good. Why haven’t I made one yet? No idea. But so I made one last week–my 3rd all-grain batch of beer. After the London Pride clone and the Petite Saison, I feel like I’ve come to understand my all-grain system and its idiosyncrasies much better, so hopefully this beer will be even more better than the last two, which so far they still turned out not so damn bad.

California Commons are basically ales fermented at ale temps. (60-75 F or so) but with lager yeast. I’ve read lots about how the lager yeast fermenting at a high temp affects the end product and how it makes this beer distinct, but I’m not going to try to remember all that and regurgitate it for you here–you can find it easily enough with a bit of a google. Suffice to say that I used lager yeast with my common because you use lager yeast when making a common. I don’t make the rules, etc.

Like I mentioned, this is my 3rd all-grain batch, so there were still plenty of bugs crawling around the system waiting to jump on my lack of planning or carelessness and fuck up my brew day. But I brought the proverbial RAID (i.e., planning) and managed to avoid serious problems. Fantastic.

The Software:

12 lbs. 2 Row Pale malt (US)

2 oz. Caramel 40L

24 g Warrior hop pellets

17 g Challenger hop pellets

0.25 tsp Irish Moss

Wyeast 2112 (Rush!) California lager yeast

The Build:

1. Brought 4 gallons to 176 F and added to MT (remembering how I undershot the temp. last time, I made sure I got the water too hot this time. I overshot by about 4 degrees and then just stirred until I hit my target temp. 152.)

2. Added grain to MT and held for 1 hour.

3. Added 3.5 gallons of water at 180 F to MT and batch sparged.

4. Vorlaufed (which just means I caught the first quart, and subsequent qts. of run-off in a pitcher and poured it back in the MT until the run-off was clear–this helps keep grain particulates out of the boil kettle) and drained all I could get into the boil kettle.

5. Brought wort to boil and added the 24 g (1 oz) of Warrior hops.

6. Boiled that sumbitch. BOILED IT!

7. With 15 minutes left, added 8.5 g of Challenger hops.

8. At flameout, added another 8.5 g Challenger hops.

9. Ran the wort through the plate chiller and into a carboy. It came out around 120 F (probably because I’ve yet to have the brainpower to realize that if I run the cold water in the opposite direction as the hot wort, I’d probably knock off more heat–next time), I’d guess. Still too hot to pitch the yeast, but not so hot to be dangerous for the carboy.

10. Closed up the carboy until the next morning, then pitched the yeast.

it's the one in the carboy. been in there about a week and it's still bubbling about every few minutes or so. the keg is full of the saison.

11. Put off cleaning till the next day, and ate some crawfish. (Just to be clear–ate crawfish after brewing, cleaned up the next day.)

So compared to the saison, this brewday went down pretty easily. There’re still a few warts in the process, but by the next batch, I’ll have freeze-dried them off and the brewday’ll be as smooth as James Carville’s head. I.e., as frictionless as possible, slick. The next brewday’ll be slick.

I don’t have any immediate plans for the next beer. I was thinking of making another Kolsch, but I’m not super set on it. If you’re reading this and have a suggestion, especially if you know me and can actually try the end product beer, tell me what kind of beer you think would be good to make.

 

Brewed Slowly: #13 Petite Saison

I’ve been interested in Saisons lately, so I figured I’d try to make one as my second all-grain batch of beer. I looked over a few recipes for lower gravity saisons, and kind of mixed and matched what I liked about a few of them to get a single recipe that I liked.

From what I understand, saisons are sometimes called farmhouse ales, and they can be French or Belgian. Sam Adams has a Rustic Saison that you might be able to find at restaurants now, and it’s an OK beer–I’ve had better, but I still like it pretty good. Technically, I guess, I brewed a French saison because I used a French saison yeast (there’s probably more to it being French or Belgian than that, but that’s what I’m going to guess).

Couple of other points to mention about this beer. I’ve gotten a few new toys to make the all-grain brewing easier. First, I built the mash-tun (which I’m sure you read all about here), then I picked up a plate heat exchanger (wort chiller) from Dudadiesel, and I also downloaded some open-source brew software called Brewtarget. While batch number lucky thirteen didn’t exactly go as planned, these new equipment additions made it much more enjoyable and ensured, as much as anything can with me, that the beer will come out good.

Before I get into the recipe, I should talk a little about Brewtarget. This software (I am completely aware of how nerdish it sounds to talk about beer making software) allows you to put in information about your recipe, desired mash temps., etc. and then does much of the math for you. It even puts together a recipe page you can print off and a ‘brewday’ instruction sheet that you can print off and follow. Pretty damn neat. Leave it to computer geeks to come up with a program that helps you make beer. So even though I’d heard about brew software before and thought it was kind of lame, I’m completely into it now. It certainly doesn’t make or break the beer, and you can easily get along without it, but it is an easy way to calculate (without doing lots of math on your own (which is pretty much not an option for me for more reasons than are germane here)) stuff such as mash efficiency, beer bitterness, original and estimated final gravities, and even estimated calories per 12 oz. beer. Shazaam.

So now for the recipe (i.e., the Software):

7 lbs. Belgian 2 row Pale malt

2 lbs. Fawcett Optic Pale malt (also 2 row)

3 oz. Czech Saaz hops (whole leaf–cause it was cheaper to get 8 oz leaf than pellets and I hadn’t used leaf hops in a while)

Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast

the Leoneian (sp?) Showdown:

1. Brought 2.2 gallons of water to 170 F and added to mash-tun (MT).

2. Added grain to MT and held at 154 F for an hour. (Full-disclosure: it was my first time using the MT and I (actually Brewtarget) calculated the water temp a little low–ended up mashing just below 150 for an hour. Will know better next time.)

stirring in the mash

3. Added approx. 5.5 gallons of water at 180 F to mash and held for 15 minutes.

4. Batch sparged and drained into brew kettle.

5. Brought wort to boil and added 1 oz. hops.

6. With 10 minutes left in 60 minute boil, added another 1 oz. hops.

7. With 2 minutes left in boil, added one more 1 oz. hops.

And here’s where it got wonked-up. I hadn’t exactly figured out all the fittings and/the operation of the heat exchanger I got, and so running the boiling wort through the plate chiller took a little improvisation and brewing assistant help. To spare you the boring details (that just also happen to make me look like a dumbass), I’ll just say that the wort was only about half-chilled coming out of the plate chiller. Which means that the wort was still pretty warm, way above the goal 70-80 F, when it went into the carboy. Which also meant that I ended up plugging the carboy with a bung and covering that with plastic wrap to sit overnight.

But wait, that means that I’ve got a Wyeast smack pack that is by now (i.e., about 6 hours in) completely expanded and waiting to be pitched. Well, I made a starter (not without its own problems) from about a quart of wort that collected in the MT while the beer boiled, put that qt. of wort in a small jug, and pitched the yeast into it to sit over night.

8. Next morning around 8 am, I pitched the yeast and starter, plugged up the carboy with an airlock, and was witnessing bubbling beer about 10 hours later.

So what was so problematic about lucky number 13? I’ll only give you the most dramatic obstacle of the day. It stormed pretty much all day, and we had about 5 (this is a conservative estimate) tornado warnings during the time I started to mash till I put the carboy away. So just when the mash was close to being done, I, and my buddy Ben who was helping, had to come inside and hide out in the bathroom until the sirens were done and the TV said the storm had passed us. This was not the only tornado siren we heard while brewing, but after we’d had about 45 minutes of the past 2 hours filled with sirens, we took our chances and stayed outside with the beer. We lived to tempt another nader.

Brewtarget has the original gravity coming out to 1.040, and I didn’t take a reading, so I’m trusting that I got somewhere relatively close to this. (If you are learned in mashing, this will probably seem optimistic to you given the amount of grain. I set out for an efficiency of 78% instead of 75 or 72, mainly because both my grains were rated for 80% efficiency. This could very easily be faulty logic. It wouldn’t be the first time.)

about 3.5 days after pitching yeast. still bubbling.

I’ll be making a steam beer this weekend, and by then I intend to have all (read: some (actually, probably just a few)) of the kinks in the new toys worked out so that this batch goes easily and ferments with confidence.

Converting A Cooler To A Mash-tun

Since I’ve started all-grain brewing, and because my first batch came out less than good, I’ve started acquiring more advanced brewing equipment. I got the converted keg as brew pot and have already used it on this beer, and since then I’ve converted a Coleman cooler into a mash-tun (MT). I had seen pictures of converted cooler MTs, and it seemed like a pretty simple DIY project after reading several people explain the process. So I got a 48 qt. cooler and some plumbing parts and built myself a MT this past Saturday morning. And now I’m going to tell you how I did it.

(Don’t think that just because there are like a million blogs and websites that explain how to do this that I’m going to pass up the chance to tell you how I did it. And I will try to be clearer and more detailed in places than other how-to’s I read were.)

Also, I’ve opened up a BrewDog Punk IPA (which I got in Atlanta), and I’ll give it a short review at the end of the post–kind of a Drinking It All subplot.

So first, I’ll cover what a MT is and does just in case you don’t really know. Basically a MT is a vessel (could be a cooler, bucket, or pot) that you steep grain in to get the wort you’ll boil as the second part of the brewing process. If you are familiar with extract brewing, the MT is what you’ll use to make your own extract (although, technically, it’s like extract but diluted so that it’s about 6-7 gallons vs. the 7-9 lbs of extract/syrup). The cooler (in my case) is fitted with a spigot so the wort can be drained into the brewpot and has some kind of false bottom or screen on the inside to keep the grains from coming out with the wort (I’m using a screen sock type thing, sometimes called a bazooka screen (no idea)).

Here’s what I used:

(1) 48 qt. Coleman cooler w/ spigot (mine’s blue)

(2) 1/2″ brass ball valve

(3) 3/4″ flat washers X 4

(4) 3/4″ rubber washers X 2

(5) #15 o-ring (it’s got a 3/4″ inner diameter)

(6) rubber seal from factory spigot

(7) 2.5″ brass pipe nipple

(8) 1/2″ barb w/ female thread

(9) 4′ stainless steel water supply hose

(10) 1/2″ x 3/8″ brass pipe bushing w/ male thread

(11) 3/8″ barb w/ female thread

And here’s a couple pictures with the plumbing fixtures:

(l-r) (not pictured: 1/2" barb) flat washer, factory spigot seal, 2.5" pipe nipple, (on top) factory spigot, #15 o-ring, another flat washer, rubber washer

2 flat washers, brass ball valve, bushing, 3/8" barb

Here’s what I did:

1. Removed the factory spigot from the cooler. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to do this, but then I looked at this video and felt like an idiot. You just hold onto the little circular collar that surrounds the spigot on the outside (it’s attached to the cap) and unscrew the piece on the inside of the cooler.

2.  Next, I put together half of the new spigot, in this order: (a) rolled the #15 o-ring onto the pipe nipple (from the right) (b) screwed on a flat washer, then both rubber washers, then 2 more flat washers (c) wrapped the exposed thread of the pipe nipple with teflon tape (d) screwed on the ball valve (e) wrapped the bushing with teflon tape and attached the 3/8″ barb.

It should look like this (minus the ball valve, bushing, and barb):

pipe nipple with o-ring, flat washer, 2 rubber washers, 2 flat washers, teflon tape

3. I put this part through the hole in the cooler where I removed the spigot.

4. I pushed the factory spigot seal onto the pipe nipple inside the cooler.

5. I pushed a flat washer on behind the factory seal.

6. Then I screwed on the 1/2″ barb (no teflon tape this time because it doesn’t matter to me if this leaks–it’s inside the cooler).

7. Finally I attached the screen sock/bazooka screen* to the barb with a 1/2″ metal hose clamp.

*Here’s how I made the screen sock/bazooka screen: (a) cut one end off the water supply hose with a hacksaw (b) scrunched the steel screen up away from the cut (the screen covers a rubber hose and if you try to pull the hose out, the screen will tighten on the hose like a Chinese finger trap so you have to scrunch the screen up and the hose will come right out.) (c) cut off a length of the screen about 7 inches long (d) crimped one open end of the screen.

It looked like this:

homemade bazooka screen. the left end is crimped, and the right end is attached to the 1/2" barb

And that’s all there is to it. I put some water in to check from leaks, and there were none, so hopefully, when I make the next beer later this week my MT will make the mashing process much easier than my mash-in-a-bag method from the London Pride clone.

Also, like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been drinking a BrewDog Punk IPA while writing this post so here’s the most concise (although maybe not the most detailed) review of a beer I’ve done yet.

Colored like a pale ale (e.g., Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada PA). Bitter like a pale ale but not floral or citrusy. 6% ABV like a pale ale. Not sure what makes this an IPA. I’m giving it a thumbs down, if for no other reason than the label calls this beer a ‘postmodern classic pale ale.’ I’m not even going to try to unpack what that label might mean, especially for a just better than OK pale ale.

Oh, and here’s a picture of the MT all finished up:

finished mash-tun

 

Beer Advice From Forums

Having recently gotten into all-grain brewing, as you know from reading this, I’ve come to understand that new equipment is pretty necessary to brew good, all-grain beers. So I got a large brew kettle, and I tried when making the London Pride clone beer to do everything else just like I had when I used extract. Let’s just say that the London Pride clone has an interesting taste that, although I haven’t had London Pride in a few months, I’m pretty confident disqualifies it as a ‘clone.’ It’s more like a mutant, and not in an awesome-power-mutant way. What does all this mean? Obviously, I need to buy more equipment, right? So I’ll soon be converting a 48 quart cooler into a mash-tun (following this) and a plate chiller is on its way to my door, too.

And even considering how smart I like to think I am, I was not able to arrive at the conclusion that I needed this equipment by intuition or ESP. I read up on all-grain brewing and problems on homebrew forums. (Admittedly, I first read through the relevant sections in the Joy of Homebrewing a few times and was less than enlightened.) Mostly I was looking for a concrete and detailed explanation/personal experience story of how immersion chillers (IC) and plate chillers (PC) stacked up against each other (i.e., which one was better).

Quick clarification/definition aside: ICs are usually a coil of copper tubing that is lowered into the wort after the boil to cool the wort down. Cold water is run through the tubing, and so the cold water in the tubing basically transfers the heat of the wort to the water and the wort cools down. You can see a picture of one here–and if my description isn’t clear, hopefully the picture helps. The PCs are heat exchangers too, but they work a little differently. Basically a PC is a series of grooved plates crammed together with two inlets and two outlets. When the plates are mashed together, the hot wort flows through one set of grooves and cold water flows through the other set of grooves. The heat exchanges because the grooves containing the two liquids touch and so transfer heat by the same principle as the IC. I’m afraid I didn’t really make that very clear at all, so here’s a picture, but it might not help. Long story short, the PC, in theory, works faster than the IC and is smaller.

After lots of looking around, I came to understand that for the most part, about as many people preferred ICs as did PCs. Which this clearly was not what I was looking for. And to add to the apparent equivocation of the two methods, several people claimed that they use not just an IC or a PC, but that they used an IC first, then ran the semi-cool wort through the plate chiller on its way to the fermentor. Now not only did I not get an answer to my question, but it seemed that I, to go by the book, would have to get both kinds of chillers.

Imagine my facial features being cartoonishly scrunched up into a 2 inch diameter area in the middle of my face (from frustration) and lots of mumbled profanity sort of coming from my general direction.

I had one last resort. Something I’ve never done ever before. But I realized that I was going to have to take matters into my own hands–I had to post a thread on a forum.

So I got onto the forums at northernbrewer.com and homebrewtalk.com because I buy my brew stuff from northernbrewer.com and homebrewtalk.com was the first hit on google when I searched for homebrew forums. And I registered. And I posted a question (which I worded carefully and politely, proofread, and punctuated). Less than an hour later, I had answers. On each forum. Ta-dow.

In case you’re interested, all signs point to the PC being sufficient instead of having a setup with both types of chillers, which is fantastic since as you remember, I’ve already ordered the PC (plate chiller, just in case you forgot what the PC refers to). So if you’re looking for some homebrew advice or answers, look to the forums. People are usually pretty ready to help out with advice, and sometimes this advice is actually worth considering.