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July, 2012

Oxygenation Stone & Regulator

Northern Brewer Oxygenation KitNorthern Brewer finally got oxygenation kits back in stock, so I pulled the trigger on one. I’m planning to brew some higher gravity beers this fall and into winter, so a round of pure oxygen will help those beers excel where they might otherwise have been “meh”.

The kit itself it quite nice. A nice, large instruction sheet, hose clamp for the regulator end, and about 3′ of ¼” beverage tubing. There seems to be a lot of online debate about whether a .5 micron stone is superior to a 2 micron, or vice versa, but I wasn’t able to find anything definitive. There’s also a lot of people complaining about the regulators leaking, and looking at NB’s site, they seem to have a couple versions of the regulator pictured: one with a black plastic knob, and one that’s all brass. I was happy to see I received the latter. It has a fairly precise feel to it, so I’m hoping it’s the plastic knob regulators that are plagued with leaks, and mine will be fine.

Oxygen Regulator

The stones themselves are fascinating from a manufacturing perspective. The pores are 0.5 microns, or about 200x smaller than the width of a human hair. People seem to have problems with these clogging, but from what I’ve read, turning the regulator on before dunking the stone into the wort, seems to help, as does boiling before & after use, so I’m anxious to try it out.

0.5 micron diffusion stone

Cold Fruit Infusion

Part of the reason I brewed up a 10 gallon batch of belgian blonde was I wanted to experiment with adding fruit flavor to a beer. Sam’s Club had a sale on frozen strawberries, so I picked up two bags (10 pounds) to play around with. I thawed a few berries the other night and mashed them up in a sample I pulled, and it was extremely tasty, so did some napkin calculations and racked about 6 gallons of beer that’s been cold-crashing for 5 days onto 5 pounds of strawberries in a bucket fermenter.

My plan is to hold the beer at 38-40 for about a week, and if a sample tastes good at that point, I’ll rack to a keg and force-carb. If I think it needs more flavor from the berries, I might add some or all of the remaining five pounds at that point and give it a few more days, but I’m hopeful it will come through nicely with this first infusion.

Belgian Blonde Strawberry Infusion

Brewery Ops Room

Finally finished the destroyer of a married man’s free time: home renovation.

Actually this project might have been my idea. When we bought our house a couple years ago, the laundry room was completely unfinished, save for the studs that were painted fire engine red. Yeah, no idea what would compel a person to do that. Anyways, between having to chill wort in my basement bathroom in the winter and not having a dedicated area to wash carboys, buckets, and kettles and leave them to drain, I figured we could turn our dungeon-esque laundry room into a really functional space, and I think we accomplished just that.

Laundry Room Renovation

The plubing was roughed-in the week I got back from Railsconf in Austin, TX, and we bought two 30″ wall cabinets, a 36″ sink base, and an 18″ floor-to-ceilingish cabinet, all unfinished. In between coats of poly, I added and moved several outlets and wired in a new phone jack so I could relocate my DSL modem. In the middle of this project, I also pulled CAT6 to every room in the house, and multiple runs to several rooms. If you’ve ever pulled cable in existing construction, you know how much of a pain in the ass that can be. I spent 3 hours one saturday literally crawling around in the floor joist space to make this possible.

In addition to the added storage space, I also gained an 8′ countertop and a huge drop-in laundry tub, which isn’t quite large enough to let my Bayou Classic pot sit in the bottom, but it’s much more suited to washing out large vessels, and it dwarfs 7.9 gallon plastic fermenter.

Drop-in Laundry Tub

I’m beyond happy with how this turned out, even if did take almost 3 months start to finish. I still need to figure out what would work best for closing up the ceiling, but that can wait until this winter when I have less going on.

Brewed – Belgian Blonde

Belgian Blonde In PrimarySo, my first 10-gallon brewday was by and large unremarkable. It was a bit odd heating up a volume of strike water that’s closer to my normal pre-boil volume than anything else, but unfamililiar territory aside, I hit my mash numbers on the button and ran off 12.75 gallons of 1.053 wort, which put me at 89% efficiency coming out of the tun. Not at all bad considering the grist was 40% wheat. Rice hulls? We don’t need no stinking rice hulls. I continue to be happy with the new manifold I built, and the mill that I bought earlier this year.

Since the handle rivets leak on my 15.5 gallon pot, I decided to wing the second half of the brewday and boil in my keggle for the first time. I had only a rough idea what the boiloff rate would be, so I chose to err on the high side, expecting something close to or a little less than my other pot. Instead, I ended up with 11, but I was still a hair above the target O.G for this recipe (1.059 vs 1.057 expected at 75% efficiency for 10 gallons). So, everything went great up until the point when I turned off the flame and started chilling.

I’ve never had a problem dropping 5 gallon batches to pitching temps mid-summer with my 25′ copper immersion chiller, but I hit a wall with this volume around 95° and short of watering my entire lawn, it was clear I wasn’t going to make any substantial progress toward pitching temps in a reasonable amount of time, so I knocked out into two carboys and threw them in the fridge to chill further while I headed out to run errands.

I should have a temp controller built for my fermentation fridge in a few weeks, but I don’t see any more 10 gallon batches in my future until I can figure out what I want to do in terms of a pump, kettle fittings, and how I need to modify my wort chilling to make that process quicker in the few warm months we get. I’d love to go with a plate or counterflow chiller, but I don’t like what happens to my hop utilization using mesh bags, and I use pellet hops almost exclusively, so I have some pros and cons to weigh, and probably some more DIY in my future.

As for this batch, I’m going to keg 5 gallons after a good cold crash and drink it fresh while summer is still here. I’m thinking I’ll split the remainder and experiment with some brief aging on fruit.

Belgian Blonde Fruit Insanity Thing

  • Batch Size: 11 gallons
  • Total Grist: 20.5 pounds
  • O.G: 1.058
  • F.G: 1.011
  • Brewhouse Efficiency: 85%
  • Boil Time: 60 minutes

Fermentables

  • 10# US Two-row
  • 8# Wheat Malt
  • 1# Crystal 10L
  • 1# Flaked Wheat
  • 8oz Caravienne

Hops

  • 2oz Willamette @ 60m (not bagged)

Notes

2012/07/08 – Brewed early-afternoon. Knocked out 11 gallons at 90°.  Fermenters went into the fridge and chilled for about 4 hours until pitching. Carboys were shook for 3 minutes each to aerate and a 2000mL starter was split between the two carboys. Fermented in a cold-water bath at ~68-70°

2012/07/23 – Fermenters moved to fridge to cold-crash

2012/07/27 – Racked 6 gallons of beer onto 5# frozen strawberries in a bucket fermenter. Bucket went back into the fridge.

2012/07/30 – Broke down and pulled a sample. Nice strawberrie notes, racked to keg.

2012/07/31 – Bled pressure and reset to 8 PSI. Fridge at 34°

2012/08/06Really refreshing brew. Stoked with how the first keg came out.

Wherein my propane run turns into a full blown fiasco

*sigh* Today was one of those days.

I’d taken Thursday and Friday off from work so, among other things, I could have a relaxing day to brew and get some fermented awesomeness back in my pipeline.

Brewing the planned 10 gallon batch meant I needed propane, so I set off to get my tank refilled and run a few other errands.

As I’m approaching the street on my way out of the grocery store parking lot, the older gentleman-apparently at the insistence of his wife-decides to just back up about 10 feet, at which point his rear bumper folded my hood like a hot tortilla and my relaxing day devolved into calling insurance agents and generally being mad at the world.

Yes, I’m still brewing tomorrow. Hopefully my blood pressure is back to normal by then.