After having a major disaster where I dumped a bunch of garden hose water into what otherwise would’ve been an awesome IPA, I made a couple changes to my equipment. I changed the fittings on my wort chiller from a simple worm screw clamp solution on a smooth copper tube to a compression fitting mating to the copper coil, and then the plastic hose was press fit over a barbed fitting. In addition to that, I modified the copper tubing routing so this fitting no longer would stay inside the boil pot, but instead would overhang the outside edge of the boil kettle.
The connection seemed like a super-robust solution as I checked it out when I made the change. It wasn’t until I did my dual brew day batch where I was chilling two batches with this one wort chiller that I found a new issue. The hot end of my wort chiller (the output side after it goes through the hot wort) had the hose sliding off just with the tug of gravity. Luckily it was toward the end of the chilling phase so the hose was starting too cool down, shrink, and no longer slide off.
So in the future it’ll be belts & suspenders, and those barbed fittings will also get hose clamps on top of it….
About a week ago, I was preparing for my homebrew day (actually a dual homebrew day, doing 2 batches simultaneously), and I was in & out of the house gathering equipment for my brew day outside. While re-positioning cars in the driveway to clear my brew space, something crunched in my back pocket. I pulled out my BIC lighter and found that it was not very pocket-durable when you sit on it.
Luckily, I had bought the lighters as a 2-pack way back when, so I tossed the broken one aside and got my backup. I briefly thought about what a disaster it would’ve been had I not had a spare. My intricate schedule of balancing two different brews, my smack-pack yeast warming in the house, my crushed grain waiting in buckets in the basement, … I would’ve had to scramble off to the store to buy another lighter, and screwed up my whole schedule for the day.
I was reminded that I had already taken precautions on my propane tanks, and I always keep 2 tanks
on hand for brew day. Years ago, I ran out of propane in the midst of my boil and that really sucked. Much worse than it would’ve been had I not had a spare BIC lighter. It reminded me that I needed to do a bit of an equipment review and figure out which items would be a true disaster if I sat on them or something on brew day and didn’t have a spare…
I switched to all-grain brewing because I was trying to have more options/control of my brews and I wanted a better tasting beer. My day job as an engineer makes me particular about process details and wanting to be able to repeat successful recipes/brew days or look at detailed notes and figure out where things went astray if I end up with less than expected results.
One of the first details I started chasing when I switched over from extract to all-grain was conversion efficiency, or getting all the extractable sugars out of the grains and into my wort. After honing in on a few common aspects and correcting them, I started studying the grains to get clues of how to further improve repeatability in conversion efficiency.
Looking at a batch of spent grain in my mash tun after ending up with a much lower OG that predicted, I noticed a lot of my grain kernels were still whole/uncracked. Since the husk doesn’t dissolve in water, if you don’t get it cracked before you mash, all those sugars stay trapped inside and don’t dissolve into your wort. And this is a possible reason for lower than expected OG.
Most homebrew shops will crack your grain for you for free, and if you’re like me, you assume they know what they’re doing and don’t bother looking at the grain. But the reality is it goes beyond knowing what you’re doing, and gets into the mundane aspects of your workday. If a particular grain needs a smaller roller spacing to get the husks cracked, or if over time they’ve drifted apart, the only way you know if you’ve got a good crush is looking at the product on the other end of the mill and checking it. If it’s not crushed enough, you have to adjust the roller spacing tighter and run it through again. If you’re an employee in a homebrew shop filling lots of orders, you might assume the guy before you set it up right and not really look at it- just grind and bag.
After finding a low OG and seeing a batch of spent grain after mashing that looked like this, with a large number of whole, intact grains- I decided I wanted to take matters into my own hands and buy my own mill. Not everyone wants to fork out $100 to do that. But if you don’t, you really should take care to examine your grain BEFORE you brew. Seeing it after mashing like I did, you’re too late to do anything about it.
However, if you see it before mashing, like this- you can adjust and correct it. You also do this check immediately after milling the grain. I learned the hard way that checking it the moments before I was about to add it to the mash tun left me scrambling to run inside and re-mill, and trying not to let the water overheat or cool off that was at my strike temperature.
As I posted over the summer (Making a Pre-Chiller), I was struggling to quickly cool my beer since the warmer weather meant warmer tap water flowing through my wort chiller. So I made a pre-chiller. But as it turns out, this handy pre-chiller also helps you cool your beer faster in the wintertime, too. Brewing in 32 degree weather, it felt silly to fill the pre-chiller cooler with ice water. But by removing the pre-chiller from the cooler and leaving it in the air, it became a way to chill the house water down by simply letting it sit in the air and the copper tubing to try to pull the house water down closer to 32 degrees. So the pre-chiller helps speed the cool-down period both when brewing in the heat of the summer, and in the cold of the winter.
I like brewing outside in the winter, just like any other time of year. Yes, I have to wear extra layers, and maybe I spend a bit more time inside keeping an eye on my brew through a window in my house, but I don’t let the weather stop my brewing. Last winter I was making a batch and all was going well until I was ready to cool the wort.
I noticed something was up when I was grabbing the hose and it was noticeably very stiff and I had a hard time stretching it over to where my brew pot was sitting to hook up the wort chiller. I turned on the water and got nothing. There was water frozen solid in the hose. I tried the other hose and found the same thing. I then decided I would bring the hose inside and run hot water on it until I thawed out the icebergs. That then took 30 minutes and was not fun.
So this winter, I bought a collapsable “pocket hose”. I keep it inside with my homebrew kit and when it’s time for wort chiller action, I bring it out, hook it up to the faucet and am ready to chill. It worked well, and was much better than monkeying around with a frozen garden hose at a time when I’m trying to chill my wort fast.
I sanitize my bottles in the oven. It’s fairly easy, and I hate seeing residual “no rinse” sanitizer lingering in my bottles that I’m about to put my precious beer into. So I cover the tops with a bit of aluminum foil, stick them in the oven, and set the oven to do a timed cook at 320 degrees for 2 hours and 15 minutes. I do that the night before and they are ready to go the next day. Or even sit around a few days because I’ve got the convenient aluminum foil “lids” on them.
My empties I keep in the basement in an open-top box, slowly accumulating as I work my way toward the next bottling day. Whenever I empty a bottle, I always give it a good thorough 3x rinse with hot water and some sloshing around to ensure I get any residue out of the bottom. So for the most part the bottles are clean, just not sanitized.
When it comes to my oven sanitizing process, since the bottles I’ve got coming in are already clean per my rinse procedure after I empty one, I don’t wash them or do anything specific with them. In one instance I had a box of new bottles from the homebrew shop, so I knew they would be clean. They had a bit of dust on them, so I figured I’d rinse them out just to wash out any accumulated dust. I was surprised to find a nasty looking creepy crawly had taken up residence in one of my empty bottles in the basement. Had I not done the “one last rinse” just before my sanitizing, that little guy would’ve been in the bottle as I unknowingly capped him with aluminum foil and stuck him in the oven for a couple of hours. That would have been a “The last time I ever had homebrew story…” for someone had one of those come floating out as I was serving my family.
So if you store your empties open topped, even if they’re clean, be sure to give a quick rinse just in case something has decided to take up residence there!
I always brew outside, as I think most people do. Or at least people brewing all-grain, since you need a serious heat source to boil that much water and indoor stovetops don’t cut it. But that’s OK, because brewing outside is great, as you get to enjoy the out of doors. Different weather seasons bring different brewing challenges, and the heat of the summer is no different.
The main challenge I encountered was getting my wort to cool down. Oh the first 100 degrees was not an issue, but trying to get down to 65F or so when it’s 85F out was a challenge. I’d be running the hose through the wort chiller and as I kept checking the temperature, I was disappointed at how slowly it was dropping the final degrees I needed. It made me even contemplate backtracking to the days before my wort chiller and filling a sink up with ice water to put the pot into.
Then I read about making a pre-chiller for your wort chiller. Basically you hook another chiller up and connect it to your wort chiller. You plumb it into a cooler, which you then fill with ice water. Then your garden hose water goes through the pre-chiller, which drops its temperature a few degrees before heading into your wort chiller.
I made mine pretty simply. I had a small drink cooler, bought a small coil of soft copper tubing, length of hose and a couple screw clamps. I wound the copper tubing around a bottle and made sure the inlet was hooked up to the end that would coil around and loop through the ice water before connecting to the outlet. Small drilling in the lid and I was all set to go.
I had frequently wondered about my fermenting yeast starter I had gurgling away in a clear growler. I thought, “A starter is nothing more than a jug of fermenting beer. Since I know I don’t want to buy beer from a clear bottle because of the ability for light wavelengths to get in there and wreak havoc with the beer, I should also be concerned about my starter.” I researched it a bit on the internet in various forums but found either inconclusive statements, or no one that really thought/cared about it.
So as I made them and let them sit on a high shelf to be in the warm part of the room, I was always a bit worried about how bright the room was. Finally, I had a genius idea- “Why grab the clear growler for my starter when I have a perfectly good and light-impenetrable brown glass growler sitting right next to it?” With this eureka moment I decided this was so obvious I didn’t know why I didn’t think of it before. So I made a yeast starter in my brown jug.
Moments afterwards, I realized the problem. The dark brown glass was so good at keeping light out that I also couldn’t really see in. So as I pitched the yeast and did my frequent vigorous shakes to aerate, I couldn’t see what was going on in the jug. I couldn’t tell if I had any kind of krausen forming, or if I was totally devoid of life. I wouldn’t know if I had a yeast factory going until the day I dumped it in my beer, so I was suddenly feeling not so bright.
Then, since I’m paranoid of extract flavors sneaking into my beer, I always chill my yeast starter in the fridge for a few days to get the yeast to collect at the bottom and then decant off the extract beer water. This is another time when you want to see what’s inside in your growler. The last thing you want to do after nurturing your little crop of yeast over the last few days is to pour some of it down the drain on brew day.
So don’t do it. Do your yeast starter in a clear or see-through container. If you’re worried about the light getting to it (which I never really could find if this was something to be worried about or not), but it in a box or wrap it with a towel or something.
I used to relish opening my beer fridge a couple days before brew day and smelling that sweet aroma of fresh hops waft out as my packages of hops sat chilling in the fridge. But after doing some brief research into hop storage, I found that wasn’t a good thing. Here’s why.
To keep hops from degrading you need to keep them away from oxygen. You can also slow the degradation rate the colder you store them. For every 27 degree drop in storage temperature, you cut the degradation rate in half. Because of this, hop producers recommend you store your hops in the refrigerator or freezer.
Aside from the storage temperature, keeping oxygen out of the packaging is even more effective. If you can smell the hops when you open your fridge, that means the packaging is not airtight. And if you can smell hop aromas coming out, you know that oxygen is getting into the packaging.
The typical Local Home Brew Shop (LHBS) takes bulk pellet hop packages and breaks them down into 1 oz. plastic pouches, “seals” them and labels them to sell. However, Hopunion is one hop supplier that provides a superior package before it even gets to your LHBS. They package in a light-proof, oxygen-barrier bag, and also evacuate the air and fill the bags with nitrogen before sealing. So not only do you get a good barrier to prevent new oxygen from coming in, they make sure you don’t start out with any oxygen.
Of course the downside is you don’t get that fresh aroma when you open your fridge, but you can always use your partially-used hops for that purpose like a sort of homebrewer’s potpourri!
There are a lot of things to do before your brew day to ensure you’re prepared and not scrambling around at the last minute. One of those things is to check the Alpha Acid (AA) % of your hops you’ll be using for bittering.
Most brewers are familiar with the equations, or at least the concept thereof, for how to calculate a beer’s IBU based on the AA of the hops you use and when you add them. As you geek out more into this topic and research it, you can quickly find your eyes glazing over as people are babbling on about chemistry reactions and throwing around terms you’re pretty sure they don’t even know what they mean.
From the higher technical analysis of those more chemistry-smart than I, here’s the takeaway that seems to be of practical use. When trying to substitute hops in a recipe, you should get particular about matching the IBU contribution from your bittering hop additions, and for the flavor & aroma additions, try to match the amount/weight.
Since hops have a range of typical AA% from batch to batch, you should always check the AA% of the hop you bought from the Local Home Brew Shop (LHBS) and tweak your recipe with your brewing software to get the proper amount of hops to add to get the IBU contribution your recipe is aiming for.
And more importantly, it’s a good idea to do this a couple days before brew day. When you find your bittering hop addition that was planned to be 0.7 oz. of 4% AA Hersbrucker, now needs to bump up to 1.4 oz. since the Hersbrucker hops are running at 2% AA from the LHBS, you’re stuck. Your little 1 oz. packet of hops that previously was going to have some leftovers, now is short and you need to get another one. Discover that on brew day and you’ll have no option but to short-change your recipe on the fly and see how it turns out. Sometimes this creates something unexpectedly good. Other times it results in exactly what you would expect, which is not what you were aiming for when you planned the recipe.