Category Archives: equipment

New Grain Mill Assembly in Time-lapse

Got my new grain mill from Everwood Avenue Brew Shop. Here’s a quick video of me putting it together (super easy). Pretty nice mill at a really good price.

I’ve since attached it to a bucket lid so it now a self contained milling system – great for dust control.

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~Cheers!

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Banking on the Yeast

OK, we’re now well into 2015, the hectic holiday fun is over and things are returning to normal. I enjoyed many great beers over the holidays but brewed little. But I have been up to some home-brewed fun. I’ve decided to start my own yeast bank; this probably makes me certifiably nuts.

Living where I do I don’t have a local home brew shop that carries liquid yeasts, or even quality dry yeast. Though I do travel often enough to be able to get what supplies I need, I still find the selection of yeasts and other “bugs” for my beers lacking and I have to resort to making online orders. This isn’t just costly, but I also worry about the viability once it makes its way through the mail (although I haven’t had an issue…yet). I almost always make at least a small starter for my beers and make sure the yeast are happy and ready to go for brew day and I do my best to ensure that I’m pitching the right amount of yeast for the beer I’m brewing. I like to use and experiment with different strains and I figure with all this its just easier if I could always keep yeasts on hand, hence the Drink N Brew Yeast Bank.

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Full disclosure: I have no experience outside high-school biology and chemistry in working in a lab setting, and I have no education in microbiology whatsoever. I do own (and did read) Yeast by Jamil Zainasheff and Chris White and there are a lot of great websites and YouTube videos show how to work in a clean environment at home. So, I went to eBay and found some test tubes, petri dishes, sterilized inoculation loops, and agar power. I also added to my collection of flasks now ranging from 50mL up to 2000mL for culturing and got a pressure cooker (my autoclave stand-in). It looks like a mad scientist’s lair or maybe a meth lab in my basement. So, I made my self some plates and slants and then put some yeast on them from some pure yeast sources. I’ve now collected a couple of different strains of yeast, and have a few others along with some brett, pedio, and lacto cultures waiting for different upcoming brew days (I see a sour beer post in the future), all of which will make it to plates and slants for storage.

My yeast bank is in its infancy now, but I’m on my way to having a good collection and a interesting side home brew project. I have just cultured up my first pitchable size of yeast from a plate (three little colonies from the plate to what I figure is about 300 billion cells) and right now all seems well. I’ll post an update on this when I have the results.

-Cheers!

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The Contract Brewhouse: Is this the future of craft beer start-ups?

IMG_1847.JPGWe all know that there is a huge boom in the craft beer industry. The market tastes have shifted from the mass-produced, pale larger to a wide range of flavourful beers made by a host of small brewers. Many beer enthusiast, home brewers, and business people are getting in on the growing market share that is craft beer. But breweries are expensive. The average beer lover can’t afford a brewery, nor have the financial backing to raise the capital that would be needed to set one up.

But what if you see that opportunity? What if you have a sound marketing plan and a great recipe? What if you’re afraid of getting yourself into that much debt? Enter the contract brewhouse. Businesses such as Brew Hub will make your beer, for a cost, but they float the overhead. Sure its not the same as owning your own brewery, but you can be a professional brewer with distribution to the beer drinking public.

It almost seems too easy. It wouldn’t do the industry any good if the market got flooded by bad beers from people who have no business to be brewing. On the other hand, this would be the opportunity for some really good brewers to get started. It could also be a way for many small established breweries to move beyond their regional boarders. I might be afraid of losing control of my product. I can control what happens in my own brewhouse, but not necessarily a third-party. You would have to rely on someone else’s idea of quality control and consistency.

Like it or not, this seems like a business model that will be here to stay. The lure of getting your beer produced without taking all the risks will be to great of a draw for many aspiring professional brewers. And why wouldn’t it be?

-Cheers

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Hops, hops, and more hops: Tricks for getting big hop flavour and aroma.

ImageHops are a backbone ingredient in beer. They are the preservative and they balance the malt sweetness. They add flavour and aroma.

Over the past decade the use of hops in may craft beers and many home brew recipes has steadily increased. Big beers with big hops have become very popular, and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

So, how are the hops used? How does all that wonderful hop flavour and aroma get into the beer? Anyone who is a brewer will know that hops are added into the boiling wort, but is that the only way to do it? When I first leaned to brew my own beer I learnt about three places to put hops in beer: at the start of the boil for bittering, near the end of the boil for flavour, and at the end of the boil for aroma. That was basically it. This is the way that I leaned to brew and adding hops at these times have made some great beer. But the more hoppy beers I drank and the more hops I added to my brews, the more hops I wanted and the more I wanted new ways to add them.

So, a recap on the basics. Hops added at the beginning of the boil (typically at the 60 minute remaining mark) are used for bittering because the main bittering component, alpha acid, need to be isomerized (made soluble in water) by the boil and this takes time. In this long time in the boil, most of the essential oils and other compounds that make up flavour and aroma are boiled off and lost. Hops added near the end of the boil (10 to 20 minutes remaining) will impart flavour with little bittering (short boil time means less alpha acid is isomerized). Also, with the flavour addition, many of the aroma compounds are lost, but not all. With the aroma addition in the last 5 minutes of the boil, most of the volatile aroma compounds are saved and nearly no bittering is added to the beer.

That is the traditional home brew hopping schedule. In recent times many pro brewers and home brewers have been experimenting with some new (some old and newly rediscovered) methods of adding hops to beer. Here a few processes and devices are discussed:

Dry Hopping

Dry hopping is when hops are added to the fermenter, quite often in a nylon or mesh sack for easy removal. The hops are added after the beer has finished fermenting and are kept there for 4 to 14 days. The hops being added to the cool, now alcoholic beer leach their oils and other compounds into the beer, but add no bittering. This is a method of adding hop flavour and aroma. Generally the flavour and aroma is resiny and grassy in nature (good Northwest US hop flavours and aromas). Left for too long and a vegetable-like flavour can start to creep in (7 to 10 days seems to work best for me).

First Wort Hopping (FWH)

First wort hopping is done by adding hops to the boil kettle as the wort is first running in (this is generally an all-grain method, however an extract brewer could add hops to the wort before the boil and see some affect). This is done to give the beer a smoother bitterness and enhance the aroma. There is about a 10% increase in the bittering, however, being that the bitterness is smoother, the perceived bitterness is the same or maybe a bit less.

The theory is that the pH of the wort as it first runs into the kettle and the time with exposure to oxygen before the boil begins allow the compounds in the hops to oxidize to a more soluble state and are preserved in the beer throughout the boiling process. Not all the science is in on this, but experiments show that there is an enhancement to the finished beer’s aroma and the bitterness is not as sharp.

Mash Hopping

Mash hopping is when hops are added to the mash tun. This doesn’t appear to give any enhancements to bittering, flavour, or aroma and seems to be just a way to waste some hops.

Hop Stand

To do a hop stand, hops are added after the boil is complete and the wort is still hot. The hops are allowed to soak in the hot wort for an extended time – 10 to 90 minutes typically, but it could be as long as over night. The main thing that is achieved with a hop stand is the kicked up flavour and aroma. Since the wort is not boiling, but hot, the flavour and aroma compounds are able to leach out into the wort and not be driven off by the boil. Since the wort is near boiling and the hops are left for some time, there is some bitterness that is imparted into the wort – estimates are 10-15% utilization (verse 35% in a boil).

This is sometimes referred to as “Whirlpool Hopping” because some brewers add the hops as they whirlpool the wort after the boil. The idea with whirlpooling the wort is to cause the turb to collect in the centre of the kettle (as it’s heavier material) so the clean wort can be removed. The hops are added while the wort is whirlpooled and the time of the hops stand is the time it takes to whirlpooled – same theory, just with a whirlpool.

Check out this article in Brew Your Own for more information.

Hop Bursting

Hop bursting is adding just a small amount of hops for a bittering charge (maybe as little as 5 IBUs) and a massive amount of hops in the last 10 minutes. The idea with this is the majority of the bittering comes from the late hops, but it also delivers a lot of flavour and aroma in the same shot. The small amount of “bittering” hops is just used to break the surface tension and prevents foaming during the boil.  Because the bittering is coming from the late addition and not through a long boil, the bittering is softer and rounder then a traditional bittering charge. Also, some brewers report that hop bursting can increase the mouthfeel. There’s a great article on Mr. Malty about hop bursting.

Continuous Hopping

The invention of continuous hopping is attributed to Dogfish Head brewery of Milton, Delaware. This is a process of adding hops to the wort throughout the boil in a continuous manner. Dogfish Head invented a machine to aid in this process called “Sir Hops-a-Lot” and has had great success in the continuous hopped IPAs such as their flagship 90-Minute IPA (continuously hopped for the 90 minutes of the boil).

By adding hops throughout the boil, the hops bitterness, flavour, and aroma all benefit with a depth of character. This process is labour intensive without Sir Hops-a-Lot, or some similar machine, but by not just adding a few additions, the beer can get the full range of what the hops can offer.

Hopback

A hopback is a sealed contained filled with hops that is put inline with the hot wort coming out of the kettle on its way to the fermenter. Because the hops are in short contact with the hot wort and is then quickly chilled, the aromatics are preserved. This has a duel-purpose by not only adding to the hop aroma, but also acting as a filter for the wort coming out of the kettle.

This is a device that a home brewer could McGyver at home. See this design from BYO.

Randall

Created by Dogfish Head, a Randall is used as part of a draft beer system. It is a canister that is filled with hops (or spices, or anything else that you’d like to infuse into the beer). The beer runs though the hops (or whatever) on its way from the keg to the glass and is infused with the flavour and aroma.

As Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, said about the Randall:

“Randall the Enamel Animal is the original gangster organoleptic hop transducing module. Basically, it’s a sophisticated filter system that allows the user to run draft beer through a chamber of whole leaf hops, spices, herbs, fruit, etc. so that the alcohol in the beer strips the flavour from whatever you add and puts it in the beer.”

Torpedo

A Torpedo is an invention of Sierra Nevada of Chico, California. It is a column that is filled with hops and connected to the fermenter. The fermenting beer is circulated through the Torpedo as an alternative to dry hopping the beer. By circulating the beer the brew master is better able to control the imparted flavours and aroma and better utilize the hops by ensuring proper contact with the beer.

Sierra Nevada has had great success with their Torpedo Ale, even naming their new tasting room in Berkley, California the Torpedo Room.

So, here’s to hops and the ever inventive brewer. ~ Cheers!

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Building a Magnetic Stir-plate

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I’ve been using a magnetic stir plate for some time now. My original one was put together for no cost from spare computer parts, a power supply that was laying around, and some scraps from a plastic tub – it wasn’t pretty, but it worked okay (okay being the word). And then came the accident – an over flowing yeast starter spilled into the stir plate, spelling the end of stir plate 1.0. But, like a phenix, a new stir plate is rising from the ashes of the old.

For those who may not know what a magnetic stir plate is or why on earth would a home brewer have one, its a device used to constantly stir a liquid. If you ever saw the inside of a lab with beakers of liquid spinning a seemingly magical whirlpool inside, you’ve probably seen a magnetic stir plate in action. It works by using the power of magnetics, one magnet inside the beaker or flask and the other under the glassware spinning. The spinning magnetic underneath causes the magnet in the liquid to also spin. Magic!

Why would a home brewer ever need such a piece of equipment meant for a lab? Well, to grow yeast. When it comes to proper fermentation, the right amount of yeast is important and there is no better way to get yeast growing them to feed the sugars and oxygen. A yeast starter is made of a bit of un-hopped wort (usually made form dry malt extract) and is allowed to ferment out. The yeast will multiply and ferment, but if there is a constant injection of oxygen the yeast will keep multiplying and building strong cell walls and good reserves to fight the big fermentation when its time. A simple starter is just like (or can actually be) and small, low gravity beer – it will produce a bunch of yeast and is, well, simple. Take a bit of wort and put it on a stir plate with the constant feed of oxygen being stirred in and that smaller amount of wort can produce a lot more, healthy yeast then a simple starter.

So, getting to the building part.

Disclaimer: I am an electronics technician by trade. If you don’t know what you’re doing with electricity or are not comfortable, don’t do it yourself, get a professional to help.

I (re)build my stir-plate from a cigar box, a variable power supply (1.5-12V DC, though a 5V supply would probably work fine), a 12V DC computer fan, a couple of magnets, a toggle switch, and a 25 ohm, 3 watt potentiometer (a variable resister, the nob to control the speed). My original stir plate was the same power supply and a magnet from a computer hard drive, but I got new rare earth magnets cheap from China (thanks eBay), the other parts came from The Source (Radio Shack), and I had the cigar box from a trip to Cuba.

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The first step is to fit up the box to hold the componest. My fan fits snug inside, but I needed to drill holes to get the switch, speed control, and power wires in.

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Then to fit and attach the components.

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Putting the power switch inline with the power and the speed control, solder (or use connectors and/or electrical tape, or get someone who knows how to do it for you, this is electricity after all) from one side of the power to the power switch, to the speed control, to the fan, and back to the other side of the power (keep in mind that the negative side of the power and the negative lead on the fan should go together and the power switch should be on the positive side of the power – polarity does matter).

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Attach the fan securely into the box. Mine actually was pretty snug in there and the lid rested on it (the fan was still free spinning), so I was luck and didn’t have to worry about it. You will need the fan in the box in such a way that its really close to the edge where the flask with the starter in it will be – the magnet will need to be pretty close. The next thing is to add the magnet to the centre of the fan. I ended up using two magnets evenly off-centre with their magnet poles in such a way that they work together, this worked pretty good. They want to stick down on their own, but to keep them in place I used a bit of aluminium tape I had on hand.

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To used the stir-plate you will need a flat bottom contained, an Erlynmeyer Flask is best because it has a flat bottom, but also a narrowing neck – a 1000mL flask is good, but a 2000mL flask would be better. You will also need a magnetic stir bar, a teflon coated magnetic bar that can be sanitized and be put into the flask with the wort. These things are both available online for not too much money.

And thats it. Pretty simple to build and a very valuable piece of equipment when it comes to yeast propagation.