Category Archives: Homebrew

Make Your Brew Day a Family Event

One side this homebrewing hobby that can be both a blessing and a curse is the amount of time needed on brew day or preparation for brew day.  Of course this time alone can be a great escape from the stresses of life.  And sitting outside on a nice summer day watching my wort boil and listening to the birds sing I find downright magical.

But telling the kids, “Not now, I’m busy” can make even the most solitude-loving individual feel guilty.  So facing a giant mass of equipment I needed to clean on Saturday afternoon in preparation for a Sunday brew day, I came up with a brilliant idea.

I conscripted the young helping hands I had at home, telling them I’d pay them $5/hour to help me clean my brew equipment.  It was a win-win.  The kids were thrilled to be earning some money to spend on whatever they wanted, they helped me get through cleaning day faster, and instead of this work being alone non-family time we were hanging out having fun listening to music and talking.  Luckily, the kids weren’t up on child labor laws and the concept of minimum wage, so I think I’ll pursue this again in the future sometime.

Boys Cleaning Brewing Equipment

Careful not to Spray Your Walls with Yeast Starter

While doing a yeast starter a while back, I had a strange phenomenon happen to me that caught me off-guard.  Doing a 2L starter in a glass 1/2 gallon carboy, I shake it up about every hour to ensure I am getting good aeration.  While doing this, it builds up pressure as I have the cap screwed on tightly so as not to leak anything.  After it settles down, I loosen the lid a bit and let it vent some of the built-up pressure (and get another dose of oxygen for the fermentation).

During this process, of course the yeast foam wants to rush out as Careful when shaking starteryou relieve the pressure, so you have to screw the lid back on again before you lose anything out the lid.  So this day while venting through the lid, I had a slow steady stream of pressurized air going out, watching the foam raise higher in the jug.  Right when it was near the lid, I screwed it down tighter only to find it suddenly rush out and foam out of the carboy.

After this happened a couple of times, I figured out what was going on with the physics of it.  By letting it establish a steady flow rate, when I started tightening the lid I was decreasing the area it had to flow through, which made the flow speed up.  Same phenomenon as a garden hose when you start to bend it over to pinch the flow.

So next time around, I’ll either not let the foam get too close to the lid before tightening the lid down, or not let it build up a steady flow stream by venting for a period of time.

Different Propane Regulators

There are different types of LP regulators out there, and some function differently.  I stumbled across this on brew day as I was using my new propane burner.  It came with its own regulator and it looked slightly different than my old one.  I didn’t think much of it and just used the new hose/regulator with the new burner.  But I found the function of the adjustable knob on it was different.

Propane Regulators

Instead of being an open/close valve (with variable opening amount in between), it actually adjusted the pressure regulation.

Adjustable Pressure, No Flow Valve
Adjustable Pressure, No Flow Valve

This wasn’t intuitive at first and I was frustrated by the fact that I now had to turn the knob in the opposite direction I was used to.  Bigger flame on pressure regulator meant turning the knob clockwise.

However on my old regulator that was a flow control valve, the pressure was fixed (at 10 psi) and my flow control valve opened by turning counterclockwise.

Fixed Pressure, Adjustable Flow Valve
Fixed Pressure, Adjustable Flow Valve

After getting my brain used to turning the knob in the opposite direction, the other issue I found was turning the flame off took a lot more turns of the knob, and it felt somewhat disconcerting that the flame went out before the knob was fully turned all the way it could go.

Not realizing that the new one with the pressure regulator adjustment gave me greater gas flow capability (adjusts up to 30 psi), I switched to the other one that I was more familiar with.  But when I went to boil the wort, I didn’t get any speedier boil than with my older/smaller burner.  So in the end, I switched the lines again.

In the end, it’s worth understanding the function of the adjustments on your propane line because just because the fitting on the burner is the same and the propane tank is the same, what you put in between can have an effect on how well you can use your burner.

When Plastic Hoses Heat Up, They Get Loose

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….

Always Have a Spare

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.

Spare Lighter

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
Spare Propane Tank 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…

Check Your Grains for Crush

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-Grains not crushed post boilGrains not crushed post boil 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- Grains milled but not enough pre boilGrains milled but not enough pre boilyou 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.

Chilling Your Beer in the Winter- Using a Pre-Chiller

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.How to make a pre chiller 2 How to make a pre chiller

Using a Wort Chiller Outside in 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 Use Portable Hose for Wort Chiller in Wintertime“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.

What Might be Lurking in Your Empty Bottles

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,Bottles ready for oven sanitizing with aluminum foil caps 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 Creepy Crawly inside beer bottlehad 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!

Chilling Your Wort in the Summer- Making a Pre-Chiller

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.

How to make a pre chiller

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 smHow to make a pre chiller 2all 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.