March, 2012

EdWort’s Apfelwein

After a string of successful hop-tastic beers, I decided to broaden my horizons a bit and put something more wife-friendly on tap in the basement, so it was time to experiment with hard cider.

This is a HomeBrewTalk favorite, and it’s incredibly simple to make. All it takes is 5 gallons of 100% apple juice, 2 pounds of dextrose, and a packet of wine yeast. The end result is dangerously drinkable for 8.5% ABV. It’s wine-like, but at the same time, not. I really didn’t know what to expect from something like this, nor do I find myself able to explain it in a way that does it justice, so I’ll just cut to a quick rundown of how to make your own. These are EdWort’s instructions more or less verbatim: Read more →

Mash Tun Upgrades

Following up on my last post, I decided to pull the trigger on the Bargain Fittings cooler kit. I ended up going with the standard 2-piece valve instead of the 3-piece, and a 38” hose barb. I also picked up two of the new 12” clear silicone gaskets, which I knew I’d need to work around a flaw in my mash tun (more on this later).

The parts arrived a few days later via USPS, and they look awesome compared to the dingy brass fittings they’re replacing.

Bargain Fittings Cooler Kit

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Some Brewery Updates In Planning

Like any homebrewer worth his weight in hops, I find I always have a mile-long list of new gear to buy, things to build, and experiments to test out. Since I haven’t done much in the way of brewing or kegging lately, I thought I’d write up a quick list of what I’m hoping to acquire in the next several months, a much-belated list of brew-year resolutions, if you will.

Mash Tun Fittings

When I started all-grain brewing in mid-2010, I snagged a 52 quart Coleman Extreme on closeout for $28. Since we did a ton of work on the house just as we moved in, I was a bit strapped for cash, so I went with a brass valve and  fittings to craft a bulkhead and connect to my copper manifold. Despite obsessive cleaning, the fittings are starting to tarnish a bit, and I think it’s high-time to move to an all-stainless setup. I’m eyeing the cooler kit from, but I haven’t decided if I want to splurge on the 3-piece valve set, or save a bit of cash for an…

Oxygenation Kit

I’ve been reading through the Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation, I’ve become more and more convinced that pure oxygen, along with a more strict control of fermentation temps, is the next tool I need to help my beers excel. If shaking a carboy for 5 straight minutes only gets about half the oxygen concentration into the wort that the yeast require for ideal conditions, then I’d rather forgo that exercise regiment and give my wort a shot of direct oxygen. While there are some disputes to be had, there also seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence from brewers who’ve experienced great leaps in the quality of their beers after moving to an oxygenation setup. Enough, at least, to convince me to try it. This is begging for a side-by-side experiment with a split-batch.

Accurate Fermentation Temperature Control

I’ve been getting by fermenting modest-gravity beers in a closet under my stairwell, and I usually toss higher-gravity beers in a water bath to keep them from running wild. Neither is ideal, however, and the latter is a bit too demanding of my attention. Since I’m also hoping to do an Oktoberfest this fall, I’ve been scouring Craigslist in search of a cheap, full-sized fridge I can toss in my garage and use as a fermentation chamber. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on temperature controllers, thermowells, and the like. I’m leaning toward a Love TSS2 since I’ll probably need a heating circuit as well (garages get cold during Fargo winters). If anyone has any recommendations or ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Of course, the latter two items have something in common: they’re upgrades I’d live to have in place before attempting any giant beers. I’ve been itching to do an American Barleywine late-summer that I can age and start drinking in the winter, and I want to do a few double IPAs to drink this fall, so I’d like to do everything I can to make sure those hops aren’t squandered on a less than ideal fermentation.

If you’ve been using any of these items, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them, the differences they’ve made in your beer, where you bought them, etc. Drop me a comment below!


Friday Photo – East Coast Beer Swap

East Coast IPAs

The brown truck brought me a package of East Coast IPAs last night! A fellow HomeBrewTalk member and I got to talking about clone recipes for Surly’s Abrasive Ale and I ended up sending a bunch of Surly out to North Carolina in exchange for some beer we can’t find anywhere near here. All told, I got 8 bottles of Dogfish Head 90 minute, 5 bottles of Uinta Hop Notch (1 broke in transit), 2 bottles of Smuttynose Finestkind, a 22oz bottle of Epic Brewing Company’s Imperial IPA from their Exponential Series, and a big bottle of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe.

Of that list, I’ve only tried the DFH 90, and only two bottles of that ever, so it goes without saying that I’m beyond excited to dig into this stack of brews and try out some East Coast hop bombs.

SP-10 Keggle Supports

When I started putting gear together to make the leap to all-grain brewing back in early Spring 2010, I was able to snag a Bayou Classic SP-10 on sale for a cool $35 (free shipping) from Amazon. There are countless threads on debating the SP-10 vs SQ-14. The usual tradeoff is that the SP-10 offers a higher BTU rating (185K vs 55K), but the SQ-14 has a square stand, so you could use it to direct-fire a keggle.

Since my acquiring a keg shell seemed like an impossibility, the round stand on the SP-10 didn’t seem like an issue, and I knew it was large enough to boil a 10-gallon batch. However, when I found a keg shell destined for a scrap heap for only $30, I couldn’t pass that up, and so I needed to find a solution to the round stand without buying a second burner. There are a few variations of this, but I thought it worthwhile to offer up my $15 solution.

SP-10 Keggle Supports

For $12 worth of 1.5″ angle iron, some time with a hacksaw and a drill, and a few dollars worth of bolts, I ended up with a damn sturdy base. While it’s not the most well-crafted metalwork I’ve ever done, the angle iron transfers all of the weight to the load-bearing parts of the existing stand, rather than putting torque on the circular steel that forms the outer ring, as I’ve seen on some other mods. The whole setup might put this toward the overkill end of the spectrum, but when there’s 12 gallons of boiling wort perched on top of an 8″ flame, I’m inclined to eliminate as many instabilities as possible.

Bayou Classic SP-10 mod

By far, the worst part of this project was the fact that the stand isn’t perfectly round. I ended up tracing the top on a piece of cardboard, and using that to measure and lay out my cuts, but as you can see, it wasn’t perfect. It took a lot of cursing and fighting with c-clamps to keep the 4 pieces together enough to get holes drilled in the corners for the bolts. It fit almost snug enough to hold itself to the stock stand, I decided to put bolts thru 2 of the sides to lock it together as one solid piece for a little extra piece of mind.