Friday, March 14, 2008

Busy Brewer

Man I've been busy with brewing stuff. After getting the cider racked to secondary I decided that it was time to start gathering the necessary stuff to get going with all grain brewing so I have been putting together a mash tun. I was lucky enough to find a guy selling coolers on Craigslist for pretty cheap so I picked up two for $6. One to make a mash tun and another to use as a cooler. I ended up getting a 48qt Coleman and a 24qt Rubbermaid (both were chest coolers) and I decided to use the larger one for the project. For the manifold I used 1/2" CPVC pipe and a combination of brass and stainless steel hardware (i.e. ball valve, coupler, washers etc.). The cooler I used was an older model so the drain was just a hole with an attached plastic cork on a hinge type thing so I didn't have to remove a valve, or drill any holes. Anyway there's not a whole lot that goes into making one, the most time consuming thing was getting all the parts. So here are a couple pics so you can see how it goes together. Feel free to leave any comments or questions.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Secondary Cider

Ok so I racked the cider into secondary today mainly because well. . . .I was bored, and I wanted to free up my primary fermenter in case I feel like making something else. I took a gravity reading of 1.001 which gives me about 8% ABV, but it's still fermenting. I also tasted it and it is quite dry as I expected. I'm considering sweetening it with lactose when I bottle because lactose is unfermentable and will not cause bottle explosions. It looks like the formula should be about 2lb of lactose and 3/4 cup of brown sugar for priming since I'm planning to make it sparkling. Bottling is a long way off so I might just leave it dry, I like it nice and tart personally.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Big Bad Bottling Day

I just got finished bottling the Barley wine today. I primed with 3/4 cup of corn sugar and a packet of re-hydrated Safale US-05 since it was such a high gravity beer. FG is still at 1.015. I actually tried a little while bottling and I cant wait for it to finish. The little bit I tasted actually made my ears warm. This recipe may become a staple in my line up. Christi tasted a little sip and she didn't think it was bad either, and that's impressive since she doesn't like beer. I think she's a little afraid of it though because when she was helping me bottle she said "one of these big bottles is gonna get me drunk isn't it?". He he he. . . . Anyway I ended up with 12/22oz bottles, 13/20oz bottles, and 12/12oz bottles. Looks like I'm gonna need some more bottles for the cider since I only have about a dozen twelve ouncers left.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yummy Cider!

So I wanted to get something going so when the barley wine was aging we had some good home brew to drink, so I decided to make a cider since Christi isn't much of a beer drinker. I picked up 4 gallons of fresh cider and 3 cans of frozen condensed apple juice. I added 6oz of brown sugar and 2.5lbs of white sugar, some ginger and cinnamon to the reconstituted apple juice and brought it to a boil. I cooled it down and added it to the cider. I reconstituted the apple juice with less water than recommended to help increase the gravity. I only used 3 of the gallons of the cider because I decided to drink one fresh, so we only ended up with 4 gallons in the fermenter. I added everything in the fermenter took a gravity reading of 1.060 and pitched the yeast (red star champagne yeast because I wanted a drier cider). Anyway, this was a totally improvised recipe so we'll see what happens, keep checking back for updates.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Red Kettle Big Bad Barley Wine Update

I took a gravity reading today and since racking to the secondary fermenter the FG dropped another 5 points from 1.020 (which was awesome) to 1.015. I started with 1.116 so this gives me a total attenuation of 85.95% and the ABV is about 13.5%. All I can say is HOLY SHIT! So far this beer is living up to it's "Big Bad" name.

Stir Plate Parts and Pics

Here are some photos of the internals and wiring of my home made stir plate. It's a pretty simple build even for beginners, I've never even soldered before (not successfully anyway) and I got it to work on my first try. It's made with 2 neodymium magnets which are glued to the center hub on an 80mm PC cooling fan, a project enclosure, and some various parts from RadioShack. I saw a lot of people online making these that were just twisting wires together, and using wire-nuts to insulate connections. But I wanted it to last so I decided to solder all of the connections. I had never had much luck with soldering so I found some videos online that explained how to do it, and from that I managed to pull it together. I soldered everything before I put it in the case, and after doing so I realized that the power jack had to be inserted from the outside. So I had to cut the wires, then install the jack, and re-solder the wires back together, no biggie just a beginners mistake. Anyway speaking of power jacks, I also saw a lot of other people's designs they cut the power plug off of an AC adapter and hard wired it into the controls. I had a few ac adapters laying around but they also went with other devices so I didn't want to eliminate my ability to use them with the device they belonged too. So I installed the power jack which allowed me to do this and it also gave me the ability to use other adapters with different voltages to vary speed beyond what the rheostat can provide.

As you've already read I have a batch of barley wine going in it's 2nd week in the secondary fermenter once it is racked to bottles I plan on harvesting some of the yeast form the carboy to rinse and save for future brews. My plan is that since the secondary fermenter doesn't generally have as heavy of a yeast deposit as the primary I'm planning to gather what yeast I can and use my new stir plate to make a starter just to get the cell count up, then put it in the fridge to hibernate so I can dip into this culture for future brews.

Ok so enough of my yammering. . . . . on with the pictures:

Below is a view of the front of the stirrer. The case came from RadioShack along with most of the parts. It is the 6x9x3 enclosure Catalog #: 270-1809. The power switch is Catalog #: 275-711, and the Rheostat (Speed Control) is Catalog #: 271-265, with the control knob being Catalog #: 274-402. The material on top of it is just an old mouse pad that I cut and glued in place with the rubber side up to provide a non-slip surface and to help level the surface with the protruding bolt heads. It also helps absorb some of the vibration and control some of the noise. I also cut squares from the mouse pad and glued them to the bottom of the case for the same purposes. By the way those bolts are temporary, they're just what I had around the house. I do plan to replace them with ones that sit flush with the surface eventually.

This picture is an overview of the open case showing the wiring. I harvested the fan from an old computer power supply that I had lying around, all the wire came from it also. You can also see that I used plastic soda bottle caps for spacers to mount the fan to the top of the enclosure. You can't see the magnets but they are a pair of 3/8"x3/8" round neodymium magnets which are glued as far apart as I could get them on the center hub of the fan. I had to pick these up at an industrial magnet store (Northwest Magnet) for $3, Radioshack didn't have any that were strong enough at the time.

The next picture is of the back of the case showing the power jack with the adapter plugged in. You can see it gives it a nice finished look along with providing the flexibility of being able to use different AC adapters.

So that's pretty much it there's not much to it. If you are even slightly mechanically inclined you can most likely make one too. It cost me around $15 to make and I used as many improvised/recycled parts as possible to keep cost down. My only advice is be careful with the neodymium magnets, those little bastards are strong and can hurt if you get a finger, or skin pinched between them when they're flying together.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

DIY Stir Plate

I have been trying to find ways of improving my brewing process and I want to put as little money into it as possible. This entails me doing things like making things myself instead of buying them which is cool because I love to make stuff. So I thought that a magnetic stir plate for my yeast starters would be a good and inexpensive way to start refining my brewing process. For those of you who aren't familiar with magnetic stir plates they are just an electrical device that uses magnets on a rotary motor and a magnetic bar in the liquid you are stirring. The magnets on the motor rotate the bar and thus stir the liquid. This is helpful in a yeast starter because it keeps the yeast cells remain suspended and in constant contact with consumable sugars, and it also helps to expel the carbon dioxide from the liquid which inhibits the yeast growth. Anyway they are fairly simple contraptions and I decided to make my own instead of spending $100+ on a manufactured one. This is a pretty common home brew DIY project, I think most home brewers who use one probably made it themselves as opposed to buying one. I borrowed from plans I found at and also .

Here is a video of it in action. Keep checking back for a parts list and pictures.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Ok so I'm at day 6 with the Barley Wine and I decided to transfer to the secondary fermenter. Since I over pitched the yeast I thought it would be good to do so right away to get the beer away form the large amount of trub. Plus there was little activity (1 bubble every 15-25 seconds) in the airlock so I figured it was time. Before transferring I took a gravity reading and all I can say is WOW! I started with 1.116 SG and the reading today was 1.021 SG which may seem high, but not for a barley wine. According to my calculations there is somewhere around 12.75% ABV which means I achieved about 80% apparent attenuation. I also tasted my sample and I have to say that I am VERY pleased with the turn out so far. The hops flavor was very nice good bitterness and a great floral aroma with the spicy and citrus hints that Simcoe and Centennial are famous for. Though it was not as malty as I thought it would be for such a high final gravity, it still had a great malt background and balanced the hops nicely. I know that barley wines usually need at least a couple months of bottle conditioning to be really good, but if this was carbonated I wouldn't hesitate to drink it now. I can't wait till this is ready to drink, it's only gonna get better with age. I am definitely putting at least a sixer away for around 6 months to age.

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Batch - Barley Wine

Red Kettle Big Bad Barley Wine

Started on 2/10/2008

13 lb Light Liquid Malt Extract

2 lb Corn Sugar (Dextrose)


2oz Simcoe Hops (60 min)

2oz Centennial Hops (30 and 15 min)

(Somewhere around 70.6 IBU according to the Tinseth method)


¼ lb Victory

¼ lb Munich

¼ lb Crystal 40

¼ lb Crystal 120

1 tsp Irish Moss (45 min)

2 11.5g packages of Fermentis Safale US-05

I steeped grains for 30 min at 150° in 1.5 gallons of water, sparged with 2 quarts of 150° water. Removed from heat, added extract and stirred until dissolved and then brought it to a boil. Then I added 2oz Simcoe at the beginning of boil, 1 tsp Irish Moss at 45 min, 1oz centennial at 30 min and 1oz Centennial at 15 min. For a total of 60 min.

Notes: The night before I made a 3 liter starter with one 11.5g packet of Safale US-05 yeast and froze a one gallon jug of water to use for cooling. Once finished boiling I added the ice to the hot wort and got it to workable temp within a few minutes. After boiling I also scooped as much of the hops from wort as possible and strained them through a sieve. I strained remaining hops through the sieve when I poured the wort into fermenter. I added 2 chilled gallons of spring water and the temp was still at 115°. I had one more gallon of cold water available to use but the wort was already a little past 5 gallon mark. So I filled bath tub with cold water and allowed fermenter to sit in it for 30 min. This brought temp to about 82° and I decided to pitch despite high temp. I pitched the 3 liter starter and I ended up with only about 2.5” of head space in fermenter. Before Pitching I took a gravity reading of 1.116 (adjusted for temp) and decided it might be a good idea to pitch the extra package of yeast I had bought. I pitched it dry along with starter and within a half hour there was activity in airlock. I had bought two packages of yeast with the intent of using the second for bottling. Since this was going to be such a high gravity beer there might not be enough viable yeast left for bottle conditioning due to such a high alcohol content. Anyway it looks like I’m going to have to pick up one more package of yeast before bottling after all. Overall I’m looking at around 70.6 IBU according to Beersmith using the Tinseth method.

Day 2 comments: I checked the temp this morning it did not come down as I had hoped. It was still at 81° this morning when I woke up. Lucky for me I always put my fermenter in a large plastic storage tub during primary to protect my carpet in case of blow off. So I placed a wet towel around the fermenter with about 6 inches of water in the storage tub and put a fan blowing on it to promote evaporative cooling. Within 2 hours my temps have already dropped to 73°. Still a degree high but I can live with that, plus it’s better than 82°. If the temp doesn’t drop within range in a few hours I filled most of the storage containers I have in the house with water and put them in the freezer so I’ll add them to the storage container once they freeze.

Tasting Report

Ok so I am finally posting a tasting report. Since I just started my next batch I figured it's about time. The flavor is a little light for a stout somewhere between a porter and a stout. The color is dark, with little to no light showing through. Flavor is a good balance of malt and hops with the malt being just a little less present. The hops is more on the bitter side rather than the aromatic but I don't mind bitterness personally. The malt is rich and a slight caramel/chocolate flavor. I really like a good hoppy IPA but for me the hops could have been toned down just a bit especially for what was supposed to be a stout. Overall it's a good porter and a weak stout at best, but very drinkable. It also seems to be getting better with age. I was planning to save about 4 bottles to try them at monthly intervals but since I only have 4 bottles left I'm afraid I'm going to have to drink them. Once I have a good reserve of different batches stocked up then I'll be able to save some for aging. So look for my next post on my recently started Barley Wine.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

So I guess I should be more diligent about keeping this blog updated but my attention lately has been consumed by watching Deadwood. Anyway it has been one week since bottling. I primed with brown sugar hoping to impart some residual molasses flavor which I think will compliment this dark stout well. Before bottling I went on the hunt for bottles from some local bars. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a case of 20oz Young's Double Chocolate Stout bottles for the cost of the deposit. These are some of the best bottles in my opinion. They are thick and durable, plus they are so dark you can hardly see through them. Which is important for protecting the beer against UV exposure and causing it to become skunky. Also the benefit of larger bottles is less bottles to fill and cap so it was a great score especially for a nickel a piece. I did actually end up having to purchase a case of 22oz bottles from the brew store. I ended up with 13 of the Young's bottles and 12 of the brew store bottles which was perfect because that was exactly how many bottles I had on hand. I am considering sampling one of the bottles today to see how the carbonation is coming along. But I will wait for at least another week to partake in any more just to allow enough time to fully carbonate. Check back later this evening for a sample report.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Day 12 Progress.

Ok so it's been about a week since my last update and my fears from day 4 were confirmed. At about day 6 I noticed there was no activity in the air lock. I took a gravity reading and it was still at 1.020 (about 55% attenuation). So I decided to transfer to the secondary fermenter thinking this would help remove some C02 and re-suspend the yeast that had settled to the bottom and maybe get things started again. A day after transferring I still had no activity in the airlock and I was still reading 1.020. . . .It was fairly obvious I had a stuck fermentation. I wanted to be sure it was stuck so I waited until day 11 and once again the gravity reading was the same. So I went to the home brew shop to pick up some red star champagne yeast and made a 500ml starter with 2oz of light DME. After about 8 hours there was plenty of activity in the starter so I pitched it into the beer. Now about 12 hours after pitching on day 12 there is airlock activity every 35-45 seconds. I haven't taken a gravity reading yet. I'm going to wait a day or two to see how the airlock activity goes. White labs web site states that WPL004 should reach 65-75% attenuation so if I can get close to that I'll be happy.

Some notes about various things:

1.I think the reason for the fermentation being stuck was lack of aeration to wort prior to pitching. Thus causing reduced growth and reproduction of the yeast during the lag stage. I did attempt to aerate by using a hand held shower head on spray setting when I added water to the(concentrated)wort thinking this splashing action would aerate it enough. The problem was I aerated the wort when it was still hot. Essentially I added the cold water in an attempt to cool the wort. When the wort is hot gases are less soluble so the O2 that I attempted to add escaped during the long cooling time. In order to avoid this problem in the future I think a wort chiller will be my next purchase . I would also like to get an O2 injecting system eventually as well.

3. After doing research I realized that 2oz of DME may have caused the gravity to be a bit higher than optimal for a starter. From now on I am going to make a larger starter of at least 1 liter (2 liters preferably) and be sure to keep the gravity at about 1.040. I would have made a larger one but the brew shop only had 500ml Erlenmeyer flasks in stock. I did not take a gravity reading from this starter but I am assuming the gravity was high due to the ratio of DME to water that I used. The optimal ratio of water to DME is 10:1 (1 gram of DME for every 10 ml of water) my starter was approx 10:1.2. Not too bad but a little high none the less. I do plan on making a starter for all brews from now on and eventually I would like to get a stir plate.