Monday, May 25th, 2015

I just finished doing the almost unthinkable: I poured twenty-four pints of beer down the drain. That’s three gallons of beer, in case you’re trying to do the math in your head.

To explain: They were all home brews, and not particularly good ones. The vast majority of it came from a batch of brown ale that I screwed up and should’ve dumped out as soon as I tasted it. I’d made a vanilla extract for a batch of porter that was still fermenting, then suffered a major brain cramp as I was getting ready to bottle the brown ale and dumped the extract into it, instead. Didn’t taste awful, but didn’t taste very good, either. I was keeping it in the hopes that it would mellow a bit in the bottles and get better. It didn’t.

After dumping all that, I started looking around to see what else I had that should have been cleaned up. Turned out I still had about a half-dozen pints from the very first batch of all-grain brew that I made almost two years ago. If I hadn’t felt the need to drink that before, and I didn’t have a hankering to drink it now, which I didn’t, then I figured it was past its prime, and out it went.

And I had two big twenty-four ounce bombers of the second all-grain batch, which was a total clusterfuck from beginning to end. I kept it around only so I could perform various experiments on it. I’m all experimented out now, so it followed the rest down the drain.

Freed up a lot of bottles. Guess it’s time to brew more beer.

drainage | 11:16 am CST
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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

In July, right after I started brewing beer using all-grain recipes, I made a batch of what was supposed to be a light blonde ale using a recipe I’d found on the internet. I don’t usually tweak the recipes I find; if they’re good, I keep brewing them, but if I don’t like a recipe, I look for something else, so I didn’t think much about the amount of grain this recipe called for until I had finished boiling the batch and started to pump it into a fermenter. Why’s it look so dark? I wondered. This was supposed to be a blonde ale. I re-checked the recipe and noticed, somehow for the first time, that it was enough to make a ten-gallon batch! I brew five-gallon batches! To say this was a high-gravity brew is, well, a bit of an understatement.

I bottled it a couple weeks later, but apparently didn’t wait long enough for fermentation to have finished, because the dimples in the caps on the bottles turned into bumps and every cap I pried off gave way with a POW! instead of the usual pffft! And the beer wasn’t all that good. Cloyingly sweet and, I don’t know, just off. But I hated to pour it down the sink without trying to save it.

For the sake of experiment, I thought I’d see how much further fermentation might go by pouring a couple bottles into a half-gallon growler and leave it for a month or two. I made the mistake of opening the first bottle without chilling it, which must make one hell of a difference to how fast the carbon dioxide outgasses from the beer. Instead of the usual POW! this one opened with a cannon-like BOOM! and nearly every drop of beer erupted from the bottle in a geyser that nearly reached the ceiling. Luckily, I set the bottle in a sink before opening it, so the beer went down the drain instead of all over the floor, countertop or wherever.

I put two 22-ounce bottles in the fridge and left them there overnight, so they were well and truly chilled when I popped the tops off them the next evening. This time I got most of the beer into the growler, sealed it up and left it on the back of a dark shelf in the basement.

Last week, I finally brought that growler out, left it in the garage to chill and opened it the day after Thanksgiving while we were playing Boggle. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I have to admit it grew on me. I downed a couple glasses while we played. Sean asked for a refill on his first glass, too, so it must not have been too bad. I’m not sure what it’s like; I wouldn’t exactly call it beer, but it’s not all that bad. I probably won’t be making any more, though.

bottle rocket fuel | 6:12 am CST
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Friday, November 28th, 2014

Bottling Day! About four weeks ago, I brewed up a recipe for scotch ale that I found on the internet. Four weeks is about as long as you need to ferment any batch of beer, even one that started out with a gravity as high as 1068. I considered leaving it until next week, but after a quick after-lunch nap today I changed my mind, headed down to the basement and started washing bottles. I could easily do without that part of the hobby; there’s so much washing and cleaning that I end up with dishpan hands on brew day or bottling day. But the beer I end up with is so goooooooood! And I made it! So until it’s no fun any more, I clean and boil and bottle and BEER!

This is the first batch of scotch ale I’ve tried to make. There’s a brewing forum I visit online that has an enormous library of recipes I keep going back to because I haven’t been disappointed with any of them yet. The high-gravity brews have been especially tasty so I’ve been tending toward those. Kind of odd that it’s taken so long for me to try a scotch ale. From what I can tell, it turned out pretty good. It’s a little flat right now and won’t have the nicely crisp bite that a few weeks of bottle conditioning will give it, but I like the flavor it’s got right now, and it can only get better from here.

I need a name for it, and I’m open to suggestions. Any suggestions.

scotch ale | 3:47 pm CST
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Monday, October 20th, 2014

Brewed a batch of beer yesterday and it kicked my ass. Brewing it, not drinking it. It won’t be ready to drink for weeks. Fortunately, I’m a patient man. And I’m in shape to do all the twelve-ounce curls there are in the world. But brewing it was like calisthenics and yoga and weight lifting all rolled into one.

I’ve got a process down now so that I don’t miss any steps or spill beer all over my shoes, but it still takes about six hours from beginning to end, I’m on my feet all the time, and I have to do more than a little bit of heavy lifting, starting with climbing up a step-stool with a five-gallon glass bottle filled with water cradled in my arms. Weighs about forty-five pounds. I climb each step very deliberately, pausing at the top to check my balance, because one false move and I would end up in the emergency room. Gotta invest in plastic water bottles some day.

After the brew was over and I finished cleaning up, I tramped up the stairs, went straight to the bedroom and rested my eyes for about thirty minutes, stretching out across the entire bed. Felt sooo good.

 

ass kicked | 8:49 pm CST
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Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

I am officially a dumbshit. You knew that. Shut up.

Some time ago I built what is basically a very big homemade refrigerator for two reasons: First, so I could control how my beer fermented. For that reason, this kind of very big homemade refrigerator is known among home brewers as a ferm chamber. Second, home brewers seem to be gadget freaks who like to knock together a lot of their own brewing equipment out of found objects. They most often turn beer kegs into kettles to boil beer in, for instance.

I made my ferm chamber by lining the space under a work bench with foam insulation, then using a chilling coil salvaged from a dehumidifier to keep it cool. It used to work pretty well, until it didn’t. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it, other than it didn’t get cold any more. The compressor kicked in, I could hear something circulating, but when I came back to it later it wouldn’t be cold. I read that sometimes the coolant leaks out and you have to take it in to get it recharged. I would rather pay to replace it with an all-new cooling unit, so I started hunting around for a small fridge.

I finally found one today, but while I was sizing up the job of tearing out the old unit and replacing it, I plugged it in one last time to confirm that it didn’t work. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. I thought that was unusual, so I plugged a fan into the outlet, and it didn’t work, either. That’s when I realized that I am officially a dumbshit.

The outlet is wired to a circuit that I ran directly from the breaker panel when I was putting up fluorescent lights in the corner of the basement that I rather grandly refer to as the brewery. They were ordinary workshop lights with pull-chains to turn them on and off. Eventually I got tired of stumbling into the dark corner, flailing in the dark for the ends of those pull chains, so I wired up a switch at the foot of the stairs. Presto! No more stumbling around in the dark.

I don’t remember if I built the ferm chamber before or after I cut the switch into the circuit. Doesn’t matter. The only important thing is, I wired the chiller to the same circuit that the lights are on, so whenever I turn the lights off, the chiller is turned off, too. And that’s why the ferm chamber hasn’t been keeping my fermenting beer cool. Dumb.

Dumb dumb dumb.

dumbshit | 3:27 pm CST
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Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

It’s brew day! I wasn’t sure I’d be ready to brew again so soon after I thought I blew a circuit breaker in the control panel of my electric brew kettle. A new one came in the mail last Thursday and I replaced it the same night, but it still wouldn’t work so that wasn’t the problem. I had to dig the schematic diagram of the control panel out of a box and trace all the lines to find out it was a wire I replaced wrongly the night I thought I blew the circuit breaker. The wire pulled free, as they do with annoying frequency when I open the door to cool off the controllers, and I thought I stuck it back where it should have gone but no, turned out I connected it to a switch that I wasn’t using for anything. Talk about a facepalm moment.

With everything functioning perfectly once again, I geared up to brew another batch. Didn’t even have to think about what I wanted to make; the last batch of vanilla porter turned out to be so tasty that I knew it would all be gone sooner than I’d be comfortable with. The grain bill is sixteen pounds of malted barley but if I can get this batch to taste like the last one, it will be well worth the expense.

brew me | 1:33 pm CST
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Saturday, April 12th, 2014

immersion heaterLeak check!

A replacement heating element arrived here at Our Humble O’Bode this morning. Sometimes I just gotta love Amazon. Ordered the element Thursday morning & got confirmation within 90 minutes that the element had shipped. I was in my basement lair this morning writing drivel when My Darling B called down, “Package!”

I installed it early this afternoon when my other chores were done, then filled the kettle with 7 gallons of water and let it sit for an hour or so to check for leaks – None! A first step toward success!

Next step: I plugged the burner in and, holding my breath, fired it up. The water began to simmer right away and, after five or ten minutes of tinkering around with the controls, I brought the temp up from 68 to 150.

Final step: Brew. That won’t be until next weekend at the earliest. Watch this space!

immersed | 2:11 pm CST
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cheater's witte beerThis is the batch I was sure I’d ruined last week by mashing it with water that was too hot. When I measured the temp of the mash just before I drained the sweet wort, it was about 170 degrees, maybe a little less. It was the first time I’d seen mash temps that high and I was pretty sure the batch was ruined, but I’d already put all that time and effort into brewing the batch, so I pitched the yeast into it anyway to see what would happen.

When I checked it the next day it was fermenting so vigorously that the air lock was full of foam and I had to replace it with a blow-off tube! So maybe not the complete failure I thought it was after all! Remains to be seen how it will taste, though, and I won’t know that for at least five, maybe six weeks.

Cheater’s Witte | 8:33 am CST
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Thursday, April 10th, 2014

burnt out heating elementThe moment I heard the pop of the circuit breaker, I saw in my mind’s eye exactly what had happened:

I had stepped away from the brew kettle for just a moment, but I’d left the drain open and forgotten that the heating element was on. The kettle drains fast, so the water had probably dropped low enough to uncover the heating element as soon as I’d walked away from it. I was away for maybe fifteen or twenty seconds, tops, but that was long enough for the heating element to get red hot. It was still glowing when I ran back to it.

I waited about five minutes for it to cool off, then filled the kettle up with enough water to cover the element, reset the breakers, and switched on the control panel.

POP! 

Dammit. Well and truly fried.

Well, this has not been the best brew day ever.

Lucky Number Homebrewing is a pretty nifty setup. I’ve seen much fancier setups with a lot more gadgets, but what I’ve got works pretty well for me. There’s an electric-fired hot liquor tank that provides 9.5 gallons of hot water and another electric-fired kettle to boil the sweet wort. The only part of the setup that’s not an expensive gadget is the picnic cooler I converted to a mash tun by pulling out the drain plug and installing a ball valve with a connector that I can snap a hose on.

A lot of home brewers use picnic coolers for mash tuns because they hold the temperature of the hot mash more or less constant; just heat the water to the temperature you want and you’re usually good. And that’s the way it’s worked for me.

Over the winter months, though, I had a little trouble getting used to the colder temperatures in the basement. A colder basement means of course that everything in the basement is colder, including the picnic cooler itself. During the summer months, I poured 185-degree water into the cooler and it cooled down to about 155 degrees, which was where I wanted it, but in the winter months it got down to about 150 degrees. Mashing takes place between 149 and 165 degrees; at the high end, the beer comes out sweet, while at the low end it’s dry. To get the temp back up where I’d like it to be, I’d been experimenting with warming the mash tun with hot tap water, wrapping the cooler in a blanket, and raising the temp in the hot liquor tank.

For this brew session, I tried all three. When I checked the temp just before I drained the mash, it was about 170 degrees! Crap Crap CRAP!

After draining the sweet wort into a fermenter and rinsing out the kettle, I started cleaning up by filling the kettle with water and adding a scoop of cleanser called PBW. It works best when it’s hot, so I fired up the heating element and brought the temp up to about 180 degrees. After letting it soak for a couple hours I cracked open the drain while I rinsed down the sides of the kettle with hot water. I’ve cleaned out the kettle this way several times; the clean rinse water washes all the gunk down to the bottom of the kettle where the drain sucks it out.

All was going well. I splashed some water on my good shoes, though, and that’s when I decided to step away so I could change into my scuzzy shoes, forgetting that the heat was still on.

This happened to me once before with the heating element in the hot liquor tank, but it switched it off right after I saw the telltale puff of steam that warned me it was firing dry. I was in the next room this time, so I didn’t realize what I’d done until I heard the circuit breaker pop.

The element cost just twelve bucks to replace but, man, it took just that one moment to go from feeling pretty good to feeling pretty stupid.

fried | 9:44 am CST
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Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

brewing a batch of beerI cribbed the grain bill for this latest batch of beer from the menu of Next Door Brewing, a brew they call Wilbur because of the oats they add to the mash. My Darling B says it’s her favorite of all the beers they brew, so I’m going to see if I can make some for her, too.

No worries, Next Door. We’ll keep coming back!

Wilbur | 9:34 pm CST
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Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

“Bottle Bomb” is a term in the homebrewing hobby that refers to beer so enthusiastically carbonated that it blows the cap right off the bottle, and sometimes even bursts the bottle itself. I haven’t brewed a batch yet that produced a bottle bomb, but I came pretty close with a batch I brewed last July.

It was my second all-grain batch that I brewed from a recipe I found in an on-line forum, but I didn’t notice until after I’d finished that the grain bill was for a ten-gallon batch. I brew five-gallon batches, so I should’ve halved the recipe. It was supposed to be a light, refreshing summer beer but ended up being a high-gravity cauldron of too-sweet witches’ brew, something close to barleywine but not as tasty.

Seven months later, it’s still way too sweet to drink but home brewers as a rule don’t pour any of their creations down the drain if there’s any chance of saving it. Trouble was, the brew was not only too sweet, it was way over-carbonated. I’m pretty sure now that I bottled it before fermentation was complete because every bottle I opened erupted like a volcano, spewing foam from its neck for several minutes, and after I poured it into a glass it had a head several inches thick that wouldn’t go away. The bottle I opened a couple nights ago sounded like a small cannon and foam jumped several inches straight up from the neck. These were bottle bombs just waiting to go off! I didn’t want to dump them but I had to come up with some way of saving them to avoid a big mess in the corner of the brewery where I stockpile bottled beer.

Beer isn’t quite as explosive when it’s cold as it is when it’s warm, so I chilled three twenty-two-ounce bombers, then opened them and let them stand in the sink for about five minutes so they could outgas a bit. All three bottles barfed up a lot of foam, one vigorously enough to bring up the sediment from the bottom of the bottle. After five minutes there was still enough beer left to fill a swing-top growler I had on hand, pouring it carefully down the side to avoid making any more foam. The idea is to leave it for at least another month before opening it again. If I bottled it before fermentation was done, this should give it more than enough room to finish conditioning in the bottle so it’s something drinkable in the end.

foamy | 9:10 am CST
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Sunday, October 20th, 2013

beerBeer’s ready!

It’s been at least four weeks since I’ve cooked up a batch of home brew, so I wanted something special. A porter seemed just about right for the cold days coming up, and I found a recipe that seemed to be not only very popular, but easy to tweak as well. Several people who tried it added their suggestions for turning it into a vanilla porter, which sounded like just what the doctor ordered. So here it is, a batch of porter, rather darker-looking than I thought it would be, and I’ve got a couple vanilla beans in a bottle filled with 8 ounces of vodka, an infusion that I’ll add to the porter three weeks from now when I’m getting it ready for bottling.


fillerup | 5:58 pm CST
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Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

image of MHTG brew schoolOn Wednesday nights, the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild usually meets at the Wil-Mar Community Center to, y’know, learn more about beer. Last night, though, they met on the premises of Madison’s newest brew pub, Next Door Brewing Co, to learn about their beer. Next Door is so new that all of their beer was still fermenting, but Keith Symonds, Next Door’s brewmaster, was happy to talk about the beer he’s making as the MHTG members crowd into his kitchen to listen.

Brew School – Next Door Brewing | 5:53 am CST
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Monday, August 19th, 2013

image of hopsRiding my bike to work this morning, I spotted this towering pillar of hops growing in the community gardens just off Atwood Avenue. Some enterprising homebrewer is making the most of his garden plot! Wish I knew who he was so I could ask him how to tend a hop plant as successful as this one is.

I rode the 6.5 mile commute in just under 30 minutes and only three bikers passed me along the way. Of course, I saw only five or six other bikers the whole trip, but still.

I pedaled like a maniac on the way home trying to better my time but the best I could manage was 27 minutes. Got home before B did, though.


Tower of hops | 6:53 pm CST
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Sunday, August 18th, 2013

image of home-brewed beerAnother brewing day. This time I’m trying to brew an ESB, which stands for either extra-special bitter or extra-strong beer, depending on who you ask. I’m going to go with extra-strong, but only because I was careful to cut back on the bitterness. My Darling B doesn’t like bitter beers and I want her to like this one.

She surprised the hell out of me by liking the last one I brewed, a heffeweizen that I bottled yesterday. There’s always a little left over in the bottom of the pail that I pour into a glass and drink. It’s flat and it’s warm, but it’s beer and I don’t like to waste good beer. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was, actually, pretty good beer. When B brought some veggies into the basement from her garden to lay on the drying racks, I offered her a sip.

“What’ve you got here?” she asked, and after I told her I was trying to make a heffeweizen, she got her nose in the glass and gave it a good sniff. Her eyebrows shot up. “You know, it smells like a heffe.” Holding it up to the light, she said, “It even looks like a heffe.” Then she took a sip, sloshed it around in her mouth a bit and said, “I think you might have done it, dear. I think you may have made a heffe.” She won’t bullshit about how beer tastes, so I felt well-chuffed about that.

brewing up an ESB | 5:02 pm CST
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Monday, August 5th, 2013

This evening I found the batch of beer I brewed yesterday standing in a puddle of its own puke. Sometimes even beer itself has trouble keeping beer down.

I’d loaded the beer – wannabe beer, really – into a great big glass bottle that should have had enough room in the neck to hold every burp, belch and backwash that the gurgling brew could have thrown up it, or so I thought, but at some point during the day it suffered a case of reflux that a dump truck full of Zanax wouldn’t have been able to control.

Cleanup required a hose, a pre-soak and a green scrubbie. That beer had better taste good.

splooey | 9:03 pm CST
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Saturday, July 20th, 2013

filling bottles with beerBottling Day! The second all-grain batch of beer is in bottles: six bombers and twenty pints, a respectable haul.

Still not sure what to all this batch. I’m not very good with names. It’s the batch that was supposed to be Centennial Blonde ale but I forgot to halve the recipe, so it’s a little sweeter and a lot more potent than it was supposed to be. Maybe Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster?


PGGB? | 2:36 pm CST
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Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Brewing Day!

brewdayThis will be my second try at brewing a light ale called Centennial Blonde. I brewed a batch of this about a week ago but forgot to halve the recipe (I was making a five-gallon batch versus the ten-gallon batch the recipe was written for), ending up with a powerfully strong soup that will I fear will be a lot more like barleywine than beer, not that that’s a bad thing. I fully intend to drink every drop of it, but I had my heart set on a batch of that blond ale so I stopped by the store on Wednesday and filled out my grain bill, half of it this time. Started in brewing this morning after coming one from the farmer’s market and finished up just in time to fire up the grill for dinner!

Centennial Blonde take two | 4:14 pm CST
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Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

fermentation chamberMonday night we went to a concert in the park and didn’t get home until around about nine-thirty, so I didn’t have time to work on my newest beer-making gadget until last night.

Harmonious Wail came to Monona to play a free gig in the park. If you ever get the opportunity to see them, even if you have to pay for it, I’d recommend that you go. They were a lot of fun. There’s Jeffo, the guy who plays bass – a bass guitar or a bass fiddle, depending on the mood I guess – and Sims, the other guy who plays either a mandolin or a guitar of one kind or another. Then there’s Maggie, who sings and plays just about anything she can lay her hands on. “Is she playing a cardboard box?” My Darling B asked me as the concert began. Yep, that’s what she was playing.

But anyway, back to the beer.

After dinner I made a trip to the store to bring home some foam insulation. I swear, the people they hire at that store are getting dumber every time I go there. The big four-by-eight sheets of pink extruded foam used to be inside the store where they keep the pre-cut plywood but apparently when they made the store bigger there wasn’t any room inside for the foam any longer, so they moved it. “Where do you keep the extruded foam?” I asked a guy at the service counter. “Uh,” he answered. “I”ll have to ask.” And he went to get somebody. Or you could look it up, I wanted to say. You’ve got a computer RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!

To get the foam home I had to cut it into two-by-four-foot pieces because that’s what fits inside the car. I’m not one of those guys that goes tootling down the road with four-by-eight sheets of plywood and other building materials laid on the roof of my car, holding on to it with one hand through the driver-side window. So with each sheet on the floor of the barn I marked off each two-foot length, scored it with a craft knife, then stood it up and snapped off the pieces while every single mosquito in Dane County zeroed in on my exposed legs. It was a close thing toward the end there whether I would be able to finish before they drained me of my last pint.

Back home I began to slice up the foam into pieces that would fill the odd-sized space under the bench. I cobbled the bench together from wood that was left over after I knocked apart an old home-made bar that came with the house and, as a consequence of trying to make the most out of a limited amount of wood, it’s sort of an odd length. I cut two pieces to double-insulate the end where the coil will be mounted, but only one layer for the back because the bench is standing against a cement wall that never gets very warm anyway. There’s just one layer on the bottom and I’ll cut just one layer for the top, too, because if I installed two layers there wouldn’t be enough space inside for the carboys to stand up.

And that’s about as far as I got last night because I forgot to buy glue when I went to the store. *facepalm*

foamy | 4:42 am CST
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Sunday, July 7th, 2013

Cleaning crap out of the basement today, “crap” being stuff that I’ve been hanging on to because I thought it might come in handy one day. It becomes “crap” the day I trip over it or have to move it out of the way one too many times.

Today, one of the items that became crap was a defunct dehumidifier that’s been taking up space in a corner of the basement. Not only did I have to move it out of the way one too many times, I also came within one wildly swinging arm of tripping over the damned thing and nearly killing myself. So really it became crap times two. Double crap. Crap with no chance at all of ever redeeming itself.

I shoved it over toward the stairs where it waited while I piled up other crap to take upstairs to the trash can. And then, just before I hauled it up to get it out of my life forever, a light bulb went on over my head, and that light illuminated this basic fact: A dehumidifier is basically a refrigerator without an insulated box to put beer in. (Everything comes back to beer. Trust me on this.) Instead of keeping beer cool, the refrigeration coils are exposed to the air so that humidity may condense on them, drip off and collect in a bucket. And as it so happened, I was in need of refrigeration.

It’s very important to control the temperature of fermenting beer if you want to make consistently good beer, which I do. Many home brewers do this by building an insulated plywood box big enough to hold the great big bottles or pails they ferment beer in. One side of the box has a hole cut in it that’s the same size as the front of a dorm fridge. Then then take the door off a dorm fridge, jam it up against the opening in the side of the insulated plywood box, and duct tape the fridge to the box. I’m not kidding. Here’s a photo of one. Here’s a photo of another one where the builder didn’t even bother using plywood.

I was going to get a dorm fridge someday after I saved up enough lunch money to spring for one, but here I had a dehumidifier that could do the same job. It was sort of on the fritz, but all I would have to do is figure out what’s wrong with it and I could save myself maybe fifty bucks. So I dragged it down to my basement lair to take it apart, a very important first step. Every guy knows this. To learn what is possible in the DIY world, you must take things apart.

It was a great idea but, unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. I took apart all the pieces that I could possibly take apart, but a lot of them turned out to be circuit boards and microprocessors. I don’t know jack about those. The best I could do for this machine was clean everything up, put it all back together, cross my fingers and switch it on. The compressor made noise like a compressor is supposed to and the fan blew hard as a fan knows how, but the coils didn’t get cold. And that’s what I really needed. Without cold coils, I don’t gots refrigeration; not for beer, not for dehumidifying. So out to the trash it went.

olddehumidifierBut wait! I had another broken-down dehumidifier! No, really. I keep crap like this forever. The second one had been parked out in the garage for years. I couldn’t use it because the fan didn’t work and it’s so old that I couldn’t find a replacement fan for it, so I was going to throw it out the next time I went to the dump. Only I never went to the dump. I can procrastinate like that forever.

I honestly never thought I’d have a use for it ever again. I wasn’t even sure the compressor still worked, so I dragged it over to an electrical outlet, plugged it in and put my hand on the coils. They frosted over in less than thirty seconds. *bliss!*

So I dragged it down to my basement lair to take it apart, and I learned that this was a dehumidifier built back in the day when they built them to last forever. It had a compressor as big as a wrecking ball, stainless-steel chilling coils and a robust electrical system so simple even I could understand it: two wires in, a switch to turn it on, and that’s all she wrote.

The biggest challenge I could see was separating the chilling coils from the radiator. The coils would have to go inside the fermentation chamber, while the radiator would have to stay outside. If I couldn’t make that happen, then the dehumidifier was not going to be lucky enough to be reincarnated as a beer-making gadget. As luck would have it, though, the copper tubing the makers used to connect the chilling coils to the compressor was just flexible enough that I could separate them from the radiator by more than a foot, plenty of room to get them inside a thickly-insulated fermentation chamber while still leaving the radiator outside.

The next step was building a fermentation chamber.

As I mentioned earlier, most guys just build a plywood box. That would’ve required me to go buy some plywood and build a box. As it happened, though, I already had a box: The space underneath the work bench in the corner of the basement that I rather grandly refer to as the brewery. I’d built shelves under the counter top where I could stash my beer-making gadgets and store bottled beer, but that could all be removed and stored in other places. I had to keep my priorities straight. The space under the bench was the perfect size to convert into a fermentation chamber, almost as if I’d had it in mind when I cobbled it together more than a year ago. And so the gadgets and the bottled beer were moved to other places, leaving all sorts of room.

I decided to install the compressor and radiator on the right-hand end of what would be the ferm chamber, which wouldn’t be easy. I’d have to cut a hole in some drywall in order to sneak the coils under the bench into the chamber, but I thought that was a better option than having the compressor and electrical wiring at the other end of the bench, which would require me to install it underneath the sink where water would inevitably end up dripping all over it. Bad idea, I thought. The other end will always be much drier. So I found my drywall saw and started hacking away, eventually stopping when I had a hole big enough to get the coils through.

And that’s about where it stands for the time being. I had to stop when it got a bit too late and the dust and dirt were starting to get to me. The next step is getting the coils through the hole into the ferm chamber, then working out how to insulate the box, which really presents no problem. All I would have to do is make a trip to a local building supply store and come back with sheets of extruded foam insulation, cut it into appropriately-sized chunks, then slide the chunks into place. But that’s for another day. I was bushed. It was time to shower, pop open a frosty cold one, and settle down for dinner. My Darling B prepared quinoa, and there was still some leftover hamburger from the July 4th burger burn.

ferm chamber? | 8:27 pm CST
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Brewing the last batch with the new brewing equipment went much more smoothly than the first time. If nothing else, I spilled a lot less beer, thanks to an afternoon I spent the weekend before with a guy named Charley. I watched him connect a hose from the mash tun to the pump, then connect another hose from the pump but wait until he let some brew drain down through the hoses to prime the pump before he connected it to the brew kettle. Well, dammit, I thought. Why wasn’t I able to figure that out on my own?

Charley brews beer with his dad in his parents’ garage. He also works at The Wine and Hop Shop, a store on the west side of town that sells supplies for making, well, wine and beer. If it were on my side of town I’d shop there all the time, but as they’re so far from where I live, I get over there only every once in a while, or shop their store through the internet. Luckily, I happened to check out the web site a couple weeks before they offered an all-grain brewing class, and because I was just about to start doing that, I signed up.

Eight other guys showed up at noon in Charley’s dad’s garage to watch Charley and Charley’s dad brew beer, listen to Charley give some pointers and ask a lot of questions. I asked a lot of questions that I hope weren’t too obnoxious, but I really wanted to know what was going on and I think what I took away helped quite a lot when I brewed this last batch. It certainly made me feel a lot more comfortable about the process. Brewing beer feels like magic to me, an art that can be truly known by only the few. I may or may not be one of the few, I don’t know, but each time I do it I learn a little bit more and the process becomes a little less daunting than I thought it was before.

Centennial Blonde Ale | 7:20 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Friday, July 5th, 2013

brewing beerGuess what I brewed a batch of today?

Still trying to figure out what I’m doing. The gadgets work fine, it’s the process I’m still trying to get hold of in my brain. I got nearly everything right today, except for one small mishap with the hose connections. What a mess that was.

The one big thing I got wrong was the grain bill. I bought enough grain for a 10-gallon batch, then mashed it as if it were a 5-gallon batch. And the thing of it is, if I’d realized what I’d done before I drained it all out of the mash tun and started boiling it, I could’ve fixed my mistake by simply brewing a 10-gallon batch. *facepalm*

I need a beer. Oh, wait. What’s this?


brew day! | 3:46 pm CST
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img of washing bottlesIf you asked me, Is there at least one thing about brewing beer that you dislike, kimo sabe? I would not hesitate a moment to answer: Washing the bottles, no question. A necessary task but a giant pain in the ass. There has got to be a robot out there to do this for me.

It’s time to bottle the hot mess that I brewed two weeks ago to find out what it tastes like. I really have no idea. I followed a recipe, sort of, but so many things went wrong that the final outcome is going to be nearly a complete surprise. It’s going to be beer, that’s all I’m sure of. Whether or not anybody besides me will want to drink it remains to be seen.

Updates to follow.

washed up | 9:22 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Thursday, July 4th, 2013

I am officially too tired to type, so this would of course be the perfect time to blog because why would I want this to make sense? See if you can follow me all the way to the last full stop.

My exhaustion stems from waking up sometime shortly after three o’clock this morning. There was a pot luck at work yesterday with so much good food that I have to admit that I overindulged a tad, leading to an after-midnight bout of indigestion. I sat up for a little more than an hour drinking glass after glass of water which eventually cleared my stomach and quieted my gut, but when I crawled back into I couldn’t get back to sleep. Also, I had developed a case of positively toxic gas that I had to release, but I didn’t think it was fair to do that to My Darling B, even with the ceiling fan going, so I got out of bed again just before five o’clock and put the kettle on to make a pot o’ joe.

After a cup of coffee I hopped on my bike and had a ride over to Save Big Money At Mendard’s. They opened the store as normal at six o’clock this morning but will be closing early at eight o’clock tonight due to the holiday so their employees can spend quality time with their families. I may have been the only customer in the store. I didn’t see anybody but employees, but it’s a big store, so there may have been one or two other customers hiding out in a far corner, several miles away.

My mission at Menard’s was to find brass fittings for my wort chiller. What’s a wort chiller? It’s anything you can use to bring the temperature of boiling wort down to room temp so you don’t kill the yeast that turn wort into beer. When I brewed on the stove top in the kitchen, I simply filled the kitchen sink up with water and ice and plopped the kettle in it. Later, I made a wort chiller out of 25 feet of copper pipe by wrapping the pipe around a paint can and running cold water through it.

I’ve still got that wort chiller and it still works great, but I made it for a kettle that’s just ten, maybe twelve inches deep. The electric brew kettle I use now is at least twenty inches deep, so I had to straighten some of the pipe to make a neck long enough to stick out of the top of the kettle. And it leaked, which was not a problem before because all the water dripped outside the kettle, but I didn’t want to count on that kind of luck after I re-engineered it. Hence, the search for proper brass fittings to make a leak-free connection.

I’ve complained before about how hard it is to find anything in Menard’s after they expanded the store to make it approximately as large as Montana so they could fill it with aisles and aisles of snack food and toilet paper. I wandered around for about ten minutes before I found what I was looking for. Mind you, that’s ten minutes of wandering around in the plumbing section. I wasn’t randomly wandering the aisles over in gardening, or electrical.

fittingsWhen I finally found the brass fittings, I had to figure out what I needed, which was a compression fitting that would screw into a hose barb. A compression fitting is a ring of brass that slips over the copper pipe and gets compressed by a nut that you can tighten over it. After everything’s screwed together, the pipe doesn’t leak. It’s a kind of plumbing magic that I don’t question. I’m just happy it works.

A hose barb is a brass tube that fits inside a hose on one end, and on the other end screws into a compression fitting. Or it should. Funny thing about compression fittings: The hose barbs aren’t made to screw directly into the nut. They’re made to screw into an adapter, which is made to screw into the nut, so hand over an additional two ninety-five, please. I’m sure there’s a good reason for doing it that way, other than to screw me out of a couple extra bucks. Maybe someday I’ll find out what it is.

Back at home I put everything together, hooked it up to the spigot and ran cold water through it full-blast to see how much leakage I would get. Result: None! Much happiness and joy followed. I will be even happier after I brew beer tomorrow and can dunk a drip-free wort chiller into the brew kettle.

I was finished with that before eight o’clock this morning. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so productive on a day off. But it was way too early in the day to take a nap, so I hopped on my bike again and headed north through Monona to see what kind of goodies were on sale at Batch Bakehouse. They had lots, but I had to go with my favorite, a raspberry oat bar, which I ate at one of the tables out front and washed down with a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice before I got back on my bike and headed home.

I hadn’t intended on riding all the way around Lake Monona, but I was already halfway there so why not? Instead if turning around and heading back I went on up Williamson Street into town, around Monona Terrace and down John Nolan Drive to go home through the Waunona neighborhood. There’s a lot of places around here named with what appear to be random vowel strings.

Got home at nine-thirty. Mowed the lawn. Nothing much to tell you about there. Bet you’re relieved as hell to hear that.

After a few more chores around the house, I finally laid down around noon to see if I could get a nap. Nothing doing. How can that be? I’m dead on my feet and I can’t get some shuteye?

I laid there for an hour or so before I gave up, rolled out of bed and banged out this drivel. You’re welcome. How’d I do?

limping along | 3:24 pm CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Monday, June 24th, 2013

amwheat004This is one of the most active batches of beer I’ve brewed in a long time! It came to life within just a few hours of pitching, and the air lock was full of foam the next morning. I cleaned it out but it just filled up again, so I replaced it with a blow-off tube that I had to watch carefully to make sure it wouldn’t get jammed full of foam, too!

Fermentation settled down by the next morning and I could replace the air lock.


bubbling away | 9:29 am CST
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Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

amwheat001Just pulled the switch on my first-ever all-grain brew, an American wheat beer for the hot, hot days of July that are almost here already!

Wait, half the summer is gone? What the hell?

Whatever. I got the recipe from an on-line forum and from all reports it’s eminently drinkable. Well, duh. It’s beer. But more important than that, it’s simple. Mash the grain, boil the wort, add the hops, done. Leaving me plenty of time to pat myself on the back for doing it right but also, as I so often do, to fret over what I may be doing wrong.

The first thing I did wrong, for instance, was that I didn’t crack open a brew to properly inaugurate my basement brewery. I’m probably never gonna forgive myself for that.

Anyway, wish me luck. Updates when I can make them.

amwheat002Update #1 – Lessons Learned:

1. With 5500 watts of blistering electric heat, this kettle can BOIL! THE! SNOT! out of any wort I can put into it! So it’s very important not to position it beneath the air conditioning ducts where condensed water will rain down on the kettle and all that yummy beer cooking inside. Yeah. Remember that. If I’m going to keep on doing this in the basement, and I certainly aim to, then I’ll have to find an exhaust fan that can move a shit-ton of very humid air out the window very quickly.

2. Keep track of your hops. I dropped a hop sock with 1/3 ounce Magnum hops into the boil kettle, my usual practice back in extract-brewing days, and never saw it again. When I was boiling in a two-gallon kettle, I had no problem finding a lost hop sock with my stir spoon. In a 10-gallon keggle, very big problem. Insurmountable problem, really. I was a little worried it would get hung up on the heating element and burn, but I kept checking and never found it there, so fingers crossed it didn’t hurt anything.

3. Find another way to estimate the amount of water I need. I used a calculation I found on-line to figure that I needed 10 gallons of water due to grain absorption, boil-off and so on. I didn’t need anywhere near that amount. I ended up with 8.5 gal in the keggle so I ended up needing to boil the wort one hell of a lot longer than the 1 hour that the recipe called for.

amwheat003Update #2 – Lessons Learned:

4. When walking through all the steps to make beer, don’t forget the one that goes, “Then cool the wort down from boiling to 70 degrees F, because BOILING wort kills yeast, and dead yeast don’t make beer!” How did I forget that? Or, to put the question more accurately, how did I forget to make sure I’d be able to do that step? Because I have a wort chiller, and I knew I would have to use it, but I neglected to see if it would fit inside my boil kettle, which it does, and still stick out the top, which it does NOT. If the hoses don’t stick out the top, it doesn’t work. (There’s a more technical explanation that involves melting vinyl and off-flavors in your beer, but I’m trying to keep it simple here.) So when I got to the part about cooling down the wort I had to kind of wing it, draining it into the fermentation bucket, then plunging the wort chiller into the bucket and hoping like hell it would work that way. It did. But my nerves won’t be able to take winging it no more, so I’ll have to find some other way.

And then, the cleanup. I could do without that part. Haven’t figured out how to talk somebody else into doing it for me, though.

American wheat | 9:36 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

dryrunWhat’s a dry run called when it’s all about moving lots of wet stuff around? “Wet run” sounds messy.

Which is apt, now that I think about it a little bit, because I made one hell of a mess the first time I tried to go through all the steps of moving water from one pot to the other in my newly-equipped basement brewery. Two of the pots, it turned out, were in very bad locations, and I also found out very quickly that the clip-on hose connections I thought were so nifty and easy to use will dump one hell of a lot of water on the floor if I’m not paying attention.

I was paying attention, most of the time, just not to the right things. Like, I know how to start a siphon, but I forgot that a siphon will start itself if you give it a chance. I gave it all kinds of chances. More water on the floor.

After mopping up the mess from the first dry run … wet run, whatever … I shuffled the pots around and tried again. I got almost no water on the floor the second time around. Yay, me.

Time to make some beer.

dry run or wet | 12:38 pm CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing, play
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Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

There is an unresolved argument in academic circles about whether the invention of beer was the primary reason that people in Mesopotamia, considered the birthplace of Western civilization about 10,000 years ago, first became agriculturalists.

By about 3200 BC, around the time the Sumerians invented the written word, beer had already held a significant role in the region’s customs and myths. But for all the notes that Sumerians took about the ingredients and the distribution of their libations, no precise recipes have ever been found. Left behind were only cuneiform texts that vaguely hint at the brewing process, perhaps none more poetically than the Hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer.

– For Its Latest Beer, a Craft Brewer Chooses an Unlikely Pairing: Archeology, NY Times, 6/18/2013

The Sumerians worshiped a goddess of beer? Clearly this is a civilization I must learn more about.

the reason we’re here | 6:39 pm CST
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Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

trialboilFiring up the electric brew kettle with the newly-live control panel!

Brew buddy Scott came over last night to facilitate the last step of bringing the control panel on line, which was literally bringing it on line – connecting it to the main circuit breaker panel. He’s done this before; I haven’t, so I took him up on his gracious offer to step in and wire it up.

With 240 volts from the main, I flipped the switch on the control panel and got a very satisfying green light. *bliss!*

Scott wanted to show me how to hook up the temp sensor on the hot liquor tank and when I started to take it down off the shelf and he said it would work fine up there I said, “Hell with that, I wanna boil some water!” So the first trial run happened last night. I did another trial boil in the brew kettle this morning to confirm that the Number Two Circuit worked and to do an autotune on the little computer that controls the temperature. Yeah. I did that. Right after I got out of the shower. Yeah. I’m that geeked out about it. Well, don’t you have any toys? I’ll bet you do.

trial boil | 6:21 am CST
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Friday, May 31st, 2013

I needed a picnic cooler with a drain hole. That was my biggest requirement. And I found several different models that had drain holes, with and without wheels, but they were all big enough to hold a dozen clowns. I didn’t need one that big. I needed a normal-sized picnic cooler, the kind that holds maybe two six-packs and a big bag of ice.

That size picnic cooler doesn’t come with a drain hole any more, sad to say. I couldn’t find one at Menard’s or at Bain’s Farm And Fleet. They didn’t have any at Shopko. I checked both of the Ace Hardware stores on our side of town, but no joy. All the coolers I found were big enough to live in, or they were normal-sized but didn’t have drain holes.

I had a hot tip that such a cooler was on sale at Wal-Mart, but I was trying to hold off going there until I had exhausted all other possibilities. Well, last night I was exhausted. I was ready to end the chase. Hanging my pride up on a peg in the garage, I climbed into the O-Mobile and drove just down the road a piece to our friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart.

I’d forgotten how dauntingly huge Wal-Mart is. I used to think that Menard’s was too big, but Wal-Mart could swallow up a Menard’s without getting so much as a belly bump. Our town’s Wal-Mart, in fact, has several Wal-Mart stores inside it. I wandered from the clothing store into the grocery store, for instance, before I realized what was happening to me.

How does anybody even know where to start looking for things in there? The place is as big as Nebraska, and about as well-signed. I walked almost all the way around the store before I happened to blunder into the section where they sold camping and outdoor sports stuff. Didn’t find any picnic coolers there, though. I did finally find a Wal-Mart employee there who said I should be able to find a picnic cooler if I went (pointing) way over there! Like a sucker, I went. I’ll bet he’s still in the break room telling the story about how he suckered the noob.

That sounds kinda dirty, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I finally found the picnic cooler I was looking for, but only by accident. I’d been wandering around Wal-Mart for almost twenty minutes without finding what I was looking for and decided, Screw this, I’m outta here, so I headed for the door. Halfway there, in I Don’t Know What Department, I blundered into a shelf loaded up with cast-off remnants from other departments, on sale for half price, and there, in the middle of the shelf, was just one normal-sized picnic cooler with a drain. Paydirt!

As soon as I got it home, I unscrewed the drain from it. The hole left behind, it turned out, was exactly the right size for a continuously-threaded nipple. Now that sounds dirty. But it isn’t. More on that later.

picnic cooler | 9:29 pm CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing, play
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Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

The beer-making machine I’ve been steadily putting together for the past four weeks needs a lot of wire for its guts. The instructions tell me I need wire in three different sizes but don’t say how much, so I have to guess, and guessing means I have to keep going back to the hardware store when I don’t guess right.

On my first visit I asked for six feet of three different colors in various sizes. I really had no idea then how much I was going to need. I barely had enough to get started. When I went back, I asked for twelve feet of almost every color and size. That was almost enough to get all the big chunks of hardware wired together, but not enough to connect them to the switches that would turn things on. Kind of a problem, there. I had to go back for another twelve feet of red in two different sizes.

Today I needed six feet of 14-gauge red and black wire to finish wiring the switches. A guy I hadn’t seen before offered to cut it for me.

“You know this is low-voltage wire,” he said, pausing before he cut it.

“Uh, okay,” I answered, waiting for him to explain why he was telling me this.

But he didn’t. He just went back to measuring and cutting, handed me the wire I asked for and then rang me up. So the first thing I did when I got home was googled the shit out of “low-voltage wire” and “14-gauge wire” and other electrical stuff to see if I could figure out whether or not my control panel was going to melt down or explode in a shower of sparks the first time I switched it on, because this control panel is very definitely not low-voltage. The circuit I was going to complete with the red and black wire I bought today, for instance, would be 240 volts. If I tried to run that through teeny-tiny 22-gauge wire, just for instance, it would go *poof!*

From what I’ve been able to find, though, 14-gauge wire is 14-gauge wire. There’s no such thing as “low-voltage” 14-gauge wire. The cord dangling from the lamp right next to me is 14-gauge wire, for instance, and there’s 120 volts coursing through it right now but it’s not on fire. I think that guy was messing with me.

low voltage | 5:22 pm CST
Category: entertainment, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Monday, May 27th, 2013

mountedpanelAll it’s waiting for is thirty amps of scalding electric current!

I got the control panel all but finished this weekend. All the important wiring is done – I ran out of 14 gauge wire before I got a couple of the lights hooked up, but it’ll work without them – and I even managed to hang the monster from the wall all by myself in spite of the fact that it weighs more than I do. It tried to kill me twice, once by falling on me and once by giving me a heart attack, but I beat it both times!

When My Darling B laid eyes on it she rolled them higher than the sky and said, “Oh, come on! That is way overkill!” And she’s right again, of course. This control panel literally has all the bells and whistles. If I ever have to rebuild it (to brew bigger batches of beer, for instance), I’ll make it a lot simpler, now that I know how it works. I’ll leave out the alarm and at least half the lights, for instance.

All that’s left is to connect it to the main breaker panel through a GFCI, which stands for “use one of these or DIE!” It’s a special circuit breaker that gets between you and water so that any electric short won’t kill you. I don’t know how it works. All I know is it’s better to have one than not, so next weekend after the paycheck comes in I’ll be traipsing my little fanny down to Menard’s to bring one home and then, some time shortly after that, I’ll be brewing again.

And a good thing, too. My stock of homebrew’s getting a little low.

mounted panel | 2:54 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Saturday, May 25th, 2013

cab1I’ve spent the afternoon wiring the control panel that I will someday plug my electric beer-brewing kettles into, if and when I ever complete it. The wiring’s not complicated – if it were, I would have given up before I started and gone back to extract brewing, boiling beer in my garage the way I’ve been doing it for many moons. But there is a lot more wiring than I thought there would be. The schematic diagram made it look so simple. The spaghetti-bowl reality of it is a completely different matter. Let’s take a look, shall we?

cab2Making beer probably should not be this insanely technological, and in all actuality I’ve learned since I bought the kit to build this contraption that a control panel doesn’t have to have all the lights and buzzers that this one has in order to make a good batch of beer, but I’m a complete noob when it comes to all-grain brewing in electric kettles and, not incidentally, a bit of a gadget freak, so the bling looked real good.

Out of all the stuff that’s mounted on the door, probably the only things that are absolutely necessary are the square-looking things called PIDs, which stands for “beer-making computer thingies,” and the switch that turns on the whole shebang. Oh, and the switch that selects which outlet to send power to, but that one’s necessary only because there are two outlets. I could’ve easily gone with just one outlet because I don’t plan on firing both kettles up, and in fact the way the switch works I wouldn’t be able to even if I wanted, but there has to be a way to do it, so there it is. A three-dollar double-throw, double-pole toggle switch would’ve done the same thing that the switch and four LED lights are doing in this kit build. Little bit of overkill going on there.

Almost all the stuff inside is needed, or at least I think it is. I’ll probably find out someday it’s not and kick myself around the block, but until then we’ll just pretend, shall we?

wiry | 9:09 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Friday, May 24th, 2013

thismakesbeerThis machine makes beer.

I was up way past my bed time working on it last night. I was so absolutely bushed after finishing up that, when I finally came upstairs, I took each of the cats aside and explained to them that anybody who woke me up before five o’clock in the morning was going to be crated and shipped to the medical lab for scientific experimentation. They waited until exactly 5:02 am to wake me up today. Good kitties.

The last thing I needed to finish my beer-making machine was a drill bit that could cut holes big enough for the electrical outlets on the bottom of the cabinet. The guy who sold me a couple of electrically-heated kettles and started this whole adventure also loaned me some tools that would cut holes through sheet steel, but not big enough for these outlets, so I traipsed my little fanny down to Menard’s last night after dinner to save big money and came back with the tools I needed.

One of the tools was a hole saw. It fits in the end of a drill and cuts really big holes. It also makes one hell of a racket, and it damn near broke my arm when it went through the hole at an angle, wedging itself in tight enough to send the drill spinning in circles at three million rpm. Actually, that should’ve given me a bloody nose, too. I was wearing safety glasses and hearing protection, but the hardware store doesn’t sell anything that keeps runaway power tools from breaking your nose. That I know of.

The most challenging holes to cut out were the square holes for the PIDs, which stands for “beer-making blackbox computers.” These little gems are what sold me on the idea of trying all-grain brewing. Well, these and the rest of the gadgets, but beer-making computers sealed the deal. And these aren’t even the most sophisticated computers that make beer, but for a noob like me they’ll do the job nicely.

I had to cut the holes out with a jigsaw, then spend about a half-hour filing the rough edges off, straightening up the sides and squaring the corners until each PID slipped into place. This part was without question the noisiest phase of the whole operation, and it went on forever. I sure hope the cats were trying to sleep while I was doing that.

Now that all the hardware’s in place, I only have to wire the parts together to make them work, which should take only seventy million hours. *heavy sigh*

this makes beer | 5:54 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

panelSpent the evening playing doll house with a handful of electric switches and LEDs. This will be the control panel for my electric brewing setup. It’s just about time to start cutting holes, I think.

control panel | 5:51 am CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing, play
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Sunday, May 12th, 2013

ebreweryBefore I tell you what I’ve been doing with wire and a sharp knife, here’s a disclaimer that I like to share as often as possible: Always cut away from you.

You will not take this advice, of course. I don’t know anybody who ever did. I never did. I used my sharp knives any damn way I pleased until the day the knife cut through the insulation just a leeetle bit faster than I thought it would and I made such a deep cut in my finger that it reminded me of an especially tender cut of juicy red meat. And the first thought that went through my mind was, Man! I wish I’d LISTENED!

I had to learn this lesson not once, but twice, because I’m a special kind of stupid.

I’ve been stripping lots of wire in order to piece together a control panel that will fire up the electric kettles I got for brewing beer. It took me the better part of two weeks to figure out where to put all the pieces so I could run wires between them without making it look like a bowl of tangled spaghetti. Actually, it took the better part of a week just to figure out what the pieces were. I’d never heard of a ‘contactor’ before and didn’t know why I needed one until I started working on this project. After digging that secret out of teh intarwebs and a few false starts that resulted in a lot of cussing while I took everything apart so I could start over, I finally laid out all the parts in a way that, as of yesterday evening, hasn’t resulted in violent disassembly or very much cussing at all. And I haven’t cut myself once.

Even so, I’m not very close to brewing beer yet. After the control panel is put together I have to wire it into the house’s main breaker panel. That’ll require datamining teh intarwebs for information again, stripping more wire and, of course, cussing. Can’t get these things done without cussing. It’s as essential to any toolbox as duct tape.

electric brewery | 10:39 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

a pile of electronicsI got a call this morning from the fraud detection unit at my friendly neighborhood bank. “We detected some unusual activity on your debit card,” the agent on the other end of the line explained to me. “Did you place an order for a pile of electronic parts and blinky lights, and pay way too much money for it?”

“Why, yes, in fact, I did,” I confirmed.

“Well, okay then,” she said. “It’s your money, I guess.”

“That’s right, it’s my money, and if I want to spend it on a pile of blinky lights, that’s what I’ll do with it. But thanks for checking.”

“It’s for your protection, sir,” she explained. “Good-bye.”

She really did say that last part. The rest of the conversation I kind of made up, but it’s “based on a true story,” as they say. I really did use my debit card to buy a pile of electronic parts and blinky lights from an internet vendor, but I thought that’s what a debit card was for.

I didn’t think it was too much money, though. The parts will eventually be assembled in a way that will control the temperature of the electric kettles I’ll use to make beer in the basement. Some people might think that’s not worth the expense, but they’re people who don’t drink beer, so they don’t count.

blinky lights | 6:00 am CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing, play
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Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Spent the afternoon cleaning up the space under the basement stairs where I’d been storing a whole bunch of flat cast-off wooden paneling, gypsum board and backer board against the eventuality that I might find a use for it someday. Well, guess what? I’ve been hauling that crap around for ages and I’ve never touched it, so I hauled it up the stairs and out to the driveway where I hacked it all to pieces with a circular saw and chucked it in the trash. If I haven’t done anything with that junk in twenty years, chances are good that I’ll never miss it.

That left me plenty of room under the stairs to erect a set of steel shelves ($41.95 from Menard’s – they keep saying I’ll save big money, but all I ever do when I’m there is spend, spend, spend) where I will be able to store the many pails, bottles and hardware I use to brew beer which, previous to this, had been cluttering up the workbench or taking up space on the floor. I didn’t realize until today that I was in possession of FIVE glass carboys!

After being cooped up all winter getting zero exercise, followed by all that clean-up, I had to have a nap. Actually, two naps. Okay, three. It was a lot of work.

clean-up | 7:19 pm CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing, play
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Saturday, April 6th, 2013

HLT3I bought it. It’s mine. I took that hot liquor tank off his hands. This is it, the gateway to grain brewing.

When I got started brewing beer I didn’t think I’d ever be interested in brewing from scratch, but after reading up on it all week long I have to admit it sounds very cool. And also, the guy who sold me the HLT gave me some of his beer. After tasting that, I really wanted to learn to make beer that tasted that good.

I’ll have to build a control panel for the HLT so I can plug it in and make beer with it. Lucky for me the guy I bought this from said he’d help me with that, because I’ve had a look at the schematic for the kit and although I’m not a total slouch at reading schematics, it would be challenging enough to make me think twice about trying it alone.

I’ll also have to do a little scratchbuilding to transform a plastic picnic cooler into a mash tun, and the same guy who sold me the HLT will let me have his brew kettle when he’s done with it. That’ll be all I need to brew my own beer in the basement.

movin on up | 5:03 pm CST
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Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

electric hot liquor tankI think I have to buy this.

It’s a hot liquor tank, it’s used for brewing beer and – this is what really blows my mind – it’s electric, which would give me the amazing super-power of being able to brew beer in my basement where the rest of my brewing equipment is, instead of having to brew it in the garage, then carry a pot of boiling brew through the kitchen and down the stairs while silently chanting a prayer to the gods to protect me from tripping on something and transforming into a burn victim.

The guy who’s selling this little electric miracle, Scott, built it himself from parts. He also built an electronic controller for it so he could control how hot it got and, being a self-confessed gadget geek, he said he’d love to help me build my own controller.

Scott’s an all-grain brewer, meaning that he doesn’t use the gooey extract that I use to make beer. Nothing wrong with extract, but Scott gave me a sample of his beer and it’s way better than anything I’ve made. I would love to learn how to make beer like that, so I asked him to describe the process. He pulled out all his equipment: showed me his new hot liquor tank, hauled out the mash tun he made himself out of a bright orange plastic Igloo picnic cooler (I could do that!), but the brew kettle he had wasn’t big enough any more so he said he’d be making a bigger one and would be putting the one he showed me up for sale. I told him not to bother; I’d take it off his hands. We shook on the deal and I said I’d be back on Saturday with the money for the hot liquor tank. We’re going to work out the rest of the deal and the plan to build the controller then.

electric brewing | 6:04 am CST
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Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Live-Blogging Brew Day!
beer brewing homebrewing homebrew

The Queen has commanded that the next beer I brew be a vanilla porter, so that’s what’s on the agenda today. I looked up recipes for vanilla porters on teh intarwebs because I assumed there must be something special about them, but there’s not. They’re all just recipes for porters with a vanilla bean or two thrown in at the end. And that’s just what I’m going to do.

2:45 OG 1.080

2:35 pitched yeast 1056 American Ale

2:30 into the carboy! temp 72 deg F

2:10 burner off, add 1 oz German Tettnang hops (4.5% alpha)

1:30 temp 212 deg F – finally got a rolling boil going! *whew!*

1:10 added 1 oz Fuggles hops (5.7% alpha) – STILL NOT BOILING!

12:50 Removed & strained the grains – still not boiling (WTF?) – added 7 lbs Munton’s Plain Amber DME

11:50 lit a fire under 2.5 gal water and added 1/2 lb TF&S Dark Crystal and 1/4 lb UK Black Patent. It’ll take 20 – 30 mins for that to come to a boil, plenty of time for the grains to give the brew a nice, dark color.

brew day | 12:05 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby, homebrewing
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Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Batch #7 is bottled! For the first time in a fortnight, the fermenters are empty and I can see the top of the workbench.

beer brewing homebrewing homebrew

This has got to be the darkest beer I’ve ever brewed. The end of the siphon I use to get the brew out of the big five-gallon bottle it was fermenting in has a bright orange tip. I could barely see it through the beer even when the tip was up against the side of the bottle.

It’s got a rich aroma and a sweet taste with just a hint of a bitter finish that even My Darling B, playing guinea pig taste-tester, gave high marks to, and if she says it’s not too bitter, I might just be onto this trick of balancing sweetness and bitterness. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.

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I got thirty-four bottles out of this batch, hitting the lucky number again.

Batch #7 Bottled! | 10:02 pm CST
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Thursday, November 29th, 2012

beer brewing homebrewing homebrewBatch #6 is bottled!

I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to bottle tonight, but I knew I’d have enough time to wash three dozen bottles, so I filled up the sink with warm, soapy water, got the brush down from its hook and got wet. There’s no way to wash that many bottles without getting wet.

It was just eight o’clock when I was done washing up and everything was put away. I had no idea if that left me enough time to bottle but I went for it anyway and somehow finished up just before bedtime. Timing is everything.

The brew has a crazy nose and a very sweet taste that I’m hoping will moderate after it’s had a chance a week or two condition in the bottles. Time now to finish off the dregs from the bottling bucket while I surf the internet looking for inspiration for the next batch while I wind down. Cheers!

Batch #6 bottled! | 10:03 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing
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Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

beer brewing homebrewing homebrewer homebrewTasting day! It’s Batch #5 and it’s one hell of a lot more bitter than I thought it would be. I knew the Northern Brewer hops I used were high alpha acid, but I thought that, if I boiled them for just a short time, the brew wouldn’t end up bitter. Wrong. Live and learn.

It’s not too bitter for my tongue, but My Darling B won’t be drinking any. Batch #6 should be more to her liking, but it won’t be ready to drink for another two weeks. In the meantime, looks like Batch #5 is all mine.


L’chaim! | 6:19 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing
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Friday, November 23rd, 2012

I couldn’t wrangle a day off from work today so I had to spend Black Friday at the office. Oh, darn.

Black Friday is the strangest holiday ever; everybody spends all day Thursday gushing about how they’re thankful for the things they have, and then on Friday they trample each other to get more things. I don’t know how that makes sense.

By now you’ve probably worked out that, even if I had managed to take the day off from the office, it’s unlikely that I would have gone shopping. Trampling old ladies sounds crazy enough to give it a try, but I’m not about to camp out all night long in the parking lot at Shopko to do it.

I took Wednesday off instead, brewed another batch of beer, read a few more chapters of the book on my bed stand and washed some clothes. Then I had Thursday off, same as everyone else, and drug my ass back to work this morning where, in the absence of the usual never-ending stream of people knocking at my door, I managed to clean out my in basket.

And now, thank Jah, it’s Friday night and I can relax with a beer and doink around on teh intarwebs, contemplating what I’ll do with the next two days off. Yay, me.

fridayfridayfriday | 5:55 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, office work, play, work | Tags:
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Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

beer brewing homebrewing homebrewer wort carboy fermentationOh yay. Two batches of beer going at the same time: a Belgian abbey on the left and a stout on the right.

The abbey is Batch #6, the slow-starter I was fretting over for two days until I finally got fermentation kickstarted by giving it a warm bath. Now it’s got a heating pad underneath to keep it from getting cold and sluggish but it doesn’t seem to need it now; fermentation is so vigorous that its temp hasn’t dropped below 69 degrees since I took it out of its bath.

The stout is Batch #7, mixed up brand-new yesterday afternoon, and it wasn’t bashful at all about getting all frothy and bubbly. It greeted me first thing this morning with a thick head of foam and the happy blurping of CO2 from its airlock.

Thank you, Mighty Universe, for the glory of beer, possibly the most significant consequence of the big bang.

thanks | 7:39 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing
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Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Same batch, eight hours later:

beer brewing homebrewing homebrewers home brewed beer

I kept thinking about the head of kreusen building on top of the wort as I was trying to read myself to sleep last night. Finally, I gave up, got out of bed and stuck the blow-off tube down the neck of the carboy. Good thing I did, because the batch started blowing off kreusen in the middle of the night.

Had to sort of Rube Goldberg a platform for the pitcher.

bubbly batch | 5:10 am CST
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Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

GIVE MY CREATION LIIIIIIIFE!LIFE, DO YOU HEAR ME! GIVE MY CREATION … LIIIIIFE!

Last time I used this particular strain of yeast it took a little more than twenty-four hours for fermentation to kick in. This time it took almost fifty-four, and I had to baby it.

I thought it might be too cold in the basement for fire-and-forget fermentation. I was right. After twenty-four hours passed, I tried mixing the wort up by rolling the carboy across the top of the work bench. When that didn’t get any results, I put the carboy in the basement sink this morning and filled the basin with warm water, about eighty degrees, and left it there all day.

When I checked it after work there were the faintest wisps of foam gathering on the head of the wort. Success! I warmed up the water in the sink and, by bedtime, there was a frothy head of kreusen building at the top of the carboy. *bliss!*

I’m going to leave it in the sink all night to keep up the temp in the carboy. It’ll be one hell of a mess in the morning with no blow-off tube to let the foam out, but I can just hose it off and by then fermentation will be going strong.

LIFE! | 9:12 pm CST
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Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Batch #6 is brewed and put to bed. Now to wait for the good part.
Batch #6 brewed and put to bed. Now to wait for the good part.

Batch #6 | 3:11 pm CST
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Saturday, November 17th, 2012

home brewed beer, better than anything you can get in a store! No matter how conceited that sounds, I'm sticking to that story and you can't shoot me down until you've had some so come on over!Bottling Day!

This is Batch #5, which I had hoped would be a less-hoppy beer than any of my previous brews — “less hoppy” meaning “a beer that My Darling B would drink.” I cut the amount of hops in half so the brew wouldn’t taste nearly as bitter as the previous batches, not counting #4, the batch that tastes like dishwater with a little sugar thrown in. Gonna drink it all, though. Not gonna throw out beer.

I gave B a sample of the beer from this batch that was left over after bottling. Her first comment: “Hmmmm. A little hoppy.”

Back to the drawing board.


Batch #5 | 4:05 pm CST
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