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.

bottle rocket fuel

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.

scotch ale

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.

ass kicked

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.



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.

brew me

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.


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!

Cheater’s Witte

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.


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.


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.


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!