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Brewed Slowly: #17 Kitchen Sink Belgian Blonde

The last beer I made, about 2 weeks ago, was what we’ll call a kitchen sink beer. I had a smack pack of Irish Ale yeast and a bunch of different types of hops around the house, and I figured if I could just get some grain, I could throw it all together and make something maybe, possibly, just maybe possibly worth drinking. When we were in Birmingham for the beer festival, we stopped by the homebrew store and I explained my ingredient situation to one of the guys working there. He suggested using the Irish ale yeast, Saaz and Northdown hops, and some pilsner grain to make a basic Belgian blonde. Fantastic, all I needed was the pilsner grain. So I picked up 12 pounds of it and had a potential beer on my hands. (I was concerned somewhat about the pilsner grain’s level of modification (because I’m not yet comfortable with multiple step mashes), but the guy assured me it was fully modified (hope he was right).)

I don’t really know what to expect from the beer because it’s actually still in the primary. But it sounds good in theory. Hopefully light and malty with mild Saaz hop flavor.

Software:

12# Belgian Pilsner (2-row)

2 oz. 40L Crystal malt

28g Northdown hop pellets

28g Czech Saaz whole leaf hops

1 tsp Irish Moss

Wyeast Irish Ale starter

Process:

1. One-step mash of the grains at 152 F for 1 hour in 3.75 gallons of water.

2. Batch sparged with 4.25 gallons of water at 175 F. Vorlaufed and added to brewpot.

3. Added Northdown hops at boil.

4. Boiled for an hour.

5. Added Irish Moss with 15 minutes left in boil.

6. Added Saaz hops with 5 minutes left in boil.

what a setup for cooling wort

7. Cooled down the wort overnight and pitched the yeast starter the next day.*

*This has become pretty much my SOP with regard to yeast pitching. It’s probably not the safest way to pitch yeast because the wort sits around for so long, but so far (4 beers in) it’s worked. I either stop up the carboy with sanitized foil or a stopper and airlock overnight.

My 10 plate chiller just doesn’t quite bring down the boiling wort to the temp I need to pitch at (which this could be because of my brewing practices, I’m not completely sure–but I’m also not sure what I could do differently. Ideas?).

fermentation beneath an SDRE t-shirt

This beer was the first I’ve fermented with any kind of temp control system (see above). What amounts to putting a t-shirt on the carboy and sitting the whole thing in a tub of water is what I’ll say is my temp control system. Guess what. It works. (The t-shirt soaks up the water and cools the entire carboy.) This setup kept the wort down to about 68 F when it would easily have stayed around 75 F without the t-shirt. And also, you might have noticed (but you probably didn’t) the carboy rocking a circa 2000 Sunny Day Real Estate t-shirt–scored at an awesome July 2000 show at the House of Blues in New Orleans. The shirt’s always been a little big for me (uninteresting story), so I’ll let the carboy have the honor from now on.

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On Yeast Starters

As you already know, loyal reader, I made the switch to all-grain brewing recently and have had to upgrade my brewing practice and system accordingly (read: I got new toys). Some of the upgrades have made the brewing process easier, some have made it more time-consuming but not necessarily harder. In theory, all the upgrades have made the beer more consistently good-tasting, predictable, and fool-proof. I’ve written about some of these upgrades already (e.g., the mash tun, converted keg pot), but there is one upgrade that isn’t related to equipment at all that I’ve yet to say anything about: the yeast starter.

just a wee little beer

*Disclaimer* This post is about yeast starters (as if the previous paragraph and title don’t make that obvious, as if), and so much-to-most of what follows may not be extremely interesting to the general reader who isn’t brewing beer or familiar with the process. But it will make sense. So even if you don’t need to make a yeast starter, you should be able to read this and wrap your mind around the existence and benefits of this thing called the yeast starter. That is, if you are actually interested in reading the rest. And if you’re still reading this far, let’s just say you are. Interested that is.

Ok. I’ve made yeast starters for the last two beers I made. Only the last two. This means a couple of things:

1. I haven’t yet actually tasted a beer I’ve made with a starter.

2. I ain’t exactly Einstein on the subject.

Also, yeast starters are only applicable to liquid yeast. If you’re using dry yeast, you should rehydrate it (which will be another post altogether).

I learned about starters by reading posts on the Northern Brewer and Home Brew Talk forums and by watching youtube videos. I’d like to say I read up on the subject in The Joy Of Homebrewing, but I didn’t. In any case, youtube is a great place to see how other people make starters and see what fits your capabilities best. In particular, I like Don OsbornJoe Polvino, and BrewAcademy (didn’t catch the guy’s name, but his explanations are accessible and fun to watch).

With that in mind, I’ll get on to what I’ve got to say about yeast starters. What I have to say is basically that starters are easy–but do require a tiny bit of planning–and can ease the doubt and fear that sometimes follows brewing (at least when I do it) by ensuring fast proof of fermentation.

Here’s how I make my starter. First I get a 1 gallon wine jug clean and sanitized. My wife occasionally makes wine, so we’ve got some empty wine jugs around. While the jug is getting sanitized, I bring half a gallon of water to a boil. Actually, let’s just do this as a list.

0. I take the liquid yeast out of the refrigerator and smack the pack if it’s Wyeast.

1. Clean and sanitize a 1 gallon glass jug (or milk container, or pretty much anything that holds a gallon and can be fitted with an airlock or tinfoil lid).

2. Boil half a gallon of water.

3. Add half a cup of dry malt extract to water. (Light extract would be best, but for reasons not completely germane here I’ve been using dark.)

4. Boil for 15 minutes. Call it wort. This is basically a tiny little half-gallon beer.

5. Cool down the wort as quickly as possible. I use an ice bath in the sink.

6. Go back to before step 1 and make sure I’ve taken the liquid yeast out of the refrigerator.

7. When the wort’s below 80 F, pour it into the sanitized jug and shake the damn shit out of it (yeast needs O2 to do its thing).

8. Pour in the yeast and cap it with sanitized tin foil.

Shazaam. Yeast starter.

Now, the other extremely important point is that this entire process needs to happen at least a day before you make beer. Here’s why:

A yeast starter is a way to cultivate a proper amount a yeast to pitch into a given batch of beer. The amount of yeast in a Wyeast smack pack or White Labs vial is adequate for pitching straight into cooled wort, but it isn’t ideal (when pitching a vial or smack pack, the yeast has to grow itself first, which can stress out the yeast, which can cause off-flavors in the beer, which just isn’t good for anybody, which etc.). Making a starter ensures that the amount of yeast pitched into the beer is sufficient to start fermenting wort quickly without unnecessarily straining the yeast. So giving the yeast you plan to pitch into your wort a little warm up wort to get started helps it do a better job when it gets to the 5 gallon (or whatever size you brew) batch. It’s like a practice before the actual game. It’s important to give the yeast at least a day to work in the starter before pitching it into a full size batch of beer. And if you can plan it so the starter is made a few days before the beer, you can chill the starter down the night before you pitch it. Chilling down the starter settles the yeast at the bottom of the jug so that when it’s ready to pitch, the wort can be mostly poured off (decanted) and just the yeast can be pitched into the 5 gallons of wort. (That way you’re not adding the malt extract beer from the starter to the real beer you made.)

The other big benefit of a starter is that fermentation starts extremely quickly. The two starters I’ve used have gotten serious fermentation going in less than 12 hours. I’m talking about 1 inch krausens (thick foam at the top of the wort) and all kinds of little yeast particles floating around. No more worrying that the yeast isn’t working.

Like I said, I haven’t actually verified the results of using a starter by tasting the beer, but going on what I’ve read about yeast strain and starters and what I’ve seen in the fermentation of my last two beers, I see no reason at all for anyone making beer, all-grain, partial grain, or extract, to not use a yeast starter.

Brewed Slowly Catch-Up: #15 Dry Stout and #16 Maui Brewing Co. Big Swell Clone

Recently, I’ve made some beers I haven’t told you guys about, and since I’m sitting here with no power (there’s a thunderstorm going through), I figured I’d write about some beer while I drink a beer in the near dark—the laptop’s got about 4 hours left of battery. Earlier, around the middle of May, I made a dry Irish stout, and just last week, I made a clone of Maui Brewing Co.’s Big Swell IPA.

I made the stout because I had some dark specialty grains and various hops sitting around that I wanted to finally get rid of and a couple packs of dry yeast that needed to be used. So I ordered some grain and made it on the cheap. It’d been such a long time since I’d made a stout that I figured it was time to try it out again. The Big Swell IPA was a kind of request of a friend who’d just come back from Hawaii and had the beer there. We went in together to split the cost and then we’ll split the beer when it’s bottled.

I’m going to rework my standard recipe explanation and basically give you the ingredients and basic steps I used to make the beer—basically less talk and more specifics.

So, first the stout.

Software:

9 lbs Maris Otter 2 row pale malt

2 lbs flaked barley

4 oz roasted barley

18 oz chocolate malt

19 g Warrior hop pellets

1 tsp Irish Moss

(2) 11.5 g packs of Safbrew S-33 dry yeast

Process:

1. One-step mash of the grains at 152 F for 1 hour in 3.5 gallons of water.

2. Added the specialty grains during batch sparge.

3. Batch sparged with 4.5 gallons of water at 175 F. Vorlaufed and added to brewpot.

4. Added Warrior hops at boil.

5. Boiled for an hour.

6. Added Irish Moss with 15 minutes left in boil.

7. Cooled down the wort and pitched the yeast.

I rehydrated the dry yeast and before pitching, and I only actually say bubbling the very next day. After that, it seemed like nothing was happening. But I let it sit in the primary fermentor for 2 weeks. When I went to keg it, I took a reading, which was 1.020, and figured that I might have pitched the yeast with the wort a little too warm. In any case, the beer tasted alright and fermented most of the way down. So I kegged it up and will carbonate it this week. (I got lazy and have just let it ‘age’ in the keg for the last week or so.

Now, the Big Swell IPA.

big swell IPA after a couple of days

Software:

14.5 lbs Rahr 2 row pale malt

14 oz Munich malt

7 oz 40 L Caramel/crystal malt

16 oz 10 L Caramel/crystal malt

1 oz Columbus hop pellets

0.75 oz Centennial hop pellets

1 oz Chinook hop pellets

1 oz Citra hop pellets

1 oz Nugget hop pellets

1 tsp Irish Moss

Wyeast American Ale II starter

Process:

1. One-step mash of the grains at 150 F for 1 hour in 4.68 gallons of water.

2. Added the specialty grains during batch sparge.

3. Batch sparged with 2.5 gallons of water at 175 F. Vorlaufed and added to brewpot.

4. Added Columbus and Centennial hops at boil.

5. Boiled for an hour.

6. Added Irish Moss with 15 minutes left in boil.

7. Cooled down the wort overnight and pitched the yeast starter the next day.

This was actually my first time making a yeast starter. I basically boiled half a gallon of water with half a cup of dark dry malt extract (DME) for 15 minutes, cooled it down, then pitched a somewhat expanded smack pack of yeast into it. I let this set for just over 2 days before I pitched it into the wort. I was a little concerned about decanting off the weak wort, especially since it was made with dark DME, but ended up pitching it all in. The color still looks fine. And there’s not way I’m going to not make a starter again—the wort was bubbling heavily after about only 10 hours. It’s been fermenting for about 5 days, and it’s still pretty active.

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.