Sunday, March 16, 2014

Brewing Water Demystified - Part I

In this first of a multipart part series on brewing water properties I explain the most basic information you'll ever need to know for making delicious tasting beer. In my view a brewing process really has three main parts. Each of the three parts influence the taste of beer in their own unique way. Having the perfect recipe is the first part of the brewing process, it's where the grain bill selections and hop schedules are created. The recipe evolves into flavors by boiling the grains mixed with water in a kettle for a predetermined amount of time. Hop and other kettle additions in just the right amounts are boiled in the water with the grains adding even more complex flavors to the beer. We're primarily interested in the first part of the brewing process because this is where having just the right water properties enhances the beer significantly.

The Right Water Profile Produces Clear Flavorful Beer
The second part of the brewing process starts when the wort has cooled and the yeast is pitched. This is where things like yeast cell pitching rates, the type of yeast and propagation methods contribute their flavors to the beer. Sanitization and temperature control play key roles during fermentation too by coaxing the yeast into producing beer flavors in ways that only yeast can. Brewing with the right water profile significantly improves the flavor of grain, hop and other ingredients but it also provides the perfect environment for yeast to produce a healthy fermentation. Its time to demonstrate how the pH and alkalinity of brewing water actually improves the taste of beer, but before that we should do a quick review of the third and last part of the brewing process.

Simple Ingredients To Adjust Alkalinity And pH
Packaging is obviously the last part of the brewing process because this is how our beer is stored and delivered to be enjoyed by other craft beer lovers everywhere. After a seven day stay in the refrigerator the beer in the fermentor clears up considerably. During that time the yeast has fallen out of suspension and stuck to the bottom of the fermentor and the cold beer is ready to be kegged or bottled. The carbonation level of the beer contributes to it's flavor as the Co2 levels are adjusted up or down. Higher levels of carbonation tend to give the beer more bite and add to it's perceived bitterness than lower levels of carbonation. Extra care taken during packaging will guarantee that your beer will still taste fresh and full of flavor for many months to come.

There we have it a brief overview of the three main parts of the beer brewing process, with the fist part being identified as the most important for water properties. Once the water properties have been adjusted correctly for mashing and sparging our grains they will be perfect throughout the rest of the brewing process everytime we brew.


Benefits Of Brewing With The Right Water Profile

Whenever I mention brewing water chemistry to most people their eyes start to glaze over and they politely change the subject to something more interesting. Unless of course they're professional brewers, have a passion for chemistry or are career hydrologists with plenty of lab experience. Learning to identify and understand the effects of atoms, ions and molecules on brewing water is a bit more difficult than learning about other areas of the brewing process. The average beer drinker will taste the difference good brewing water adds to the flavor of a beer but they typically won't ask anything about the brewing water profile. They may love the fresh bright hop aroma in your IPA but you'll never hear them say things like 'it could've used a bit more gypsum'. Discussing water properties over a cold one isn't the most interesting topic of conversation for everyone but that could also be the reason why home brewers consider it to be a subject left only to advanced brewers. Creating a good water profile really isn't that hard to do once you've learned a few basics.

Kettle View Of Bright Clear Wort Color And Compact Cold Break
To understand how something as simple as water can make such a huge difference in our finished beer we'll have to talk a little bit about alkalinity and pH. The alkalinity of our brewing water reacts with the potassium released during the mash. To get the best wort color, clarity and conversion rates the pH of the mash should remain stable, somewhere between 5.20 and 5.40 at mash temperature, throughout the mash. But all water contains buffers that resist changes to alkalinity and pH, just how hard the buffers resist change depends on the strength of the buffers. There are several software packages out there that calculate the salt, mineral and acid amounts needed to adjust the water pH to match any given style of beer and they're easy to use. 

A Crystal Clear 4 SRM Color OG Sample
Once you see how easy measuring, evaluating and modifying your own water profile is you'll wonder why you waited until now to try it. By adding small amounts of gypsum, Epsom salt, calcium chloride and lactic acid to your brewing water the mash will produce clearer wort with improved color and flavor and higher conversion rates. The ingredients are readily available at your local home brew store, are inexpensive to buy and completely safe to use in recommended amounts. Mashing within the recommended pH range efficiently converts starch into sugars and the grain bed develops finer particles that dramatically increase it's filtering capacity which makes the wort extremely clear and colorful.

Grain Bed With Fine Particles That Filter The Wort
Overall the most obvious benefit of brewing a recipe using the right water profile is a better tasting beer. For comparison I brewed the same recipe I have been brewing for years using filtered tap water but this time I brewed the recipe using a water profile I modified myself. I can't even begin to tell you how much better the modified water version came out than any of my original tap water versions. The color of the beer was extremely light and it looked great in the glass. The hop aroma was bright and clean and the beer had a nice flavor from the combination of grains and hops.

The most remarkable thing for me is that I had also managed to capture that nice bready taste noticeable when exhaling through my nose after swallowing a sip of beer! Up until now I had found this one single component lacking in almost all of my previous beers. Some of my beers would have this bready finish but I'd never been able to consistently reproduce it with every brew until now. It never occurred to me that this bready finish was attributed to the brewing water and mash pH more than it was to the grain bill or yeast alone.

It's important for a brewer to produce the best tasting example of their beer consistently and that basically means having the ability to mash grains within a recommended temperature and pH range throughout the year. Ultimately that comes down to being able to brew using water that has consistent properties throughout the year. Water properties from the same location can vary widely from season to season so each batch of brewing water needs to be analyzed for it's mineral content and pH value before being used to brew beer  and then modified as needed to match the beer recipe's water profile. 


Using The Tools Of The Trade

There are two different approaches to modifying brewing water. The simplest approach is to start off with either distilled water or reverse osmosis water that basically has had all mineral content removed from it already. This provides a source of water with a consistent baseline to use when calculating the salt, mineral and acid additions needed to build a particular water profile. I prefer this approach over the alternative of doing frequent water analysis to determine the seasonal adjustments needed to compensate for changes in the water's properties. In my view it's definitely easier to start off with water having the same properties because water profile adjustments can be easily repeated based on the results of prior brews.

This becomes even more important when entering values into the EZ Water Calculator because when using reverse osmosis or distilled water you simply have to enter the volume of water in gallons as 100% of the total water volume. Otherwise you have to take the results from your latest water test then enter those amounts as parts per million of calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride and sulfates in order to calculate the amount of additions needed to reach the recommended mash pH value.

Calculating 4 Gallons Of Mash And 5 Gallons Of  Sparge Using Distilled Water
Once the confusing part, whether to use your local water supply with seasonal water quality reports or reverse osmosis or distilled water with their consistent properties, has been decided and entered we need to enter the grain bill. Darker malts have an acidic value which works to lower the water's pH value, which is really just an indicator of the water's alkalinity. In contrast pale malts do very little to lower the water's pH because they are not as acidic as darker malts. We can't rely on pale malts to lower the water's pH enough but by adding lactic acid and other minerals we can reduce the water's pH while strengthening the water's buffering properties.

Darker Grains Add Acid And Lower The pH More Than Lighter Grains

Buffering properties?! Let me explain. Let's assume that reverse osmosis water has had all of it's minerals and salts removed, in effect weakening it's buffering capabilities. Now the slightest additions of either acid or base minerals will swing the pH values down or up accordingly. But as we add gypsum, calcium chloride and Epsom salt to the water we start to strengthen those buffers to the point where they become much more resistant to pH value changes when acid or base minerals are added. This is exactly what we want in order to maintain a constant mash pH in the 5.20 to 5.40 range throughout the mash. If you've decided to use your local water supply you have to determine it's pH, salt and mineral content to understand it's buffering strength and then calculate the additions needed to maintain the recommended pH range during the mash. 


Digital pH Meter With 4.01, 7.01 Calibration Buffers
You've managed to hang in there up until now. I can tell because you're still reading this post. We can assume you are serious about your brewing water properties and learning how modifying them correctly will produce the best tasting beer ever. Going forward you will need a quality digital pH meter with a resolution of a tenth of point and calibration buffer solutions to correctly calibrate the meter before each pH reading. A digital scale is also needed that can measure to the tenth of a gram. This type of scale is very useful when measuring out salt and mineral additions. Each salt or mineral has a different weight per teaspoonful so having the ability to accurately measure grams will make modifying water properties much easier. Lactic acid comes in liquid form and the additions are calculated in milliliters so a small syringe like those used to administer children's doses of liquid medicine are perfect to use.


What's Next?

In part II of this series we will build on the basics layed out in this post and brew a hypothetical batch of beer using a water profile made from scratch. I've already brewed several batches of beer using the same recipe and brewing water profile and I will include every step of the brewday in detail. If you choose to you can brew a batch of beer for yourself at your own pace by simply following the brewing instructions. The basic recipe is an East Coast IPA style made from a pound of CaraPils and eleven pounds of US 2 Row malt. Two ounces of Centennial hops and four ounces of Cascade hops provide the bittering, flavor and aroma. But the recipe really comes to life when mashed using the modified water profile we will build together and the resulting beer will be delicious.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Indoor Electric Brew In A Bag Brewroom

A few months from now I will be installing a 220 volt recirculating infusion mash system (RIMS) in my new brewroom, I've already said goodbye to my old natural gas powered system. My previous brewroom was awesome I brewed over 100 batches in there, it was located indoors in a well ventilated basement and was powered by two natural gas burners. For me at the time this was a really beautiful setup, after some initial trial and error in the layout, it became a very efficient brewroom that was a lot of fun to use. The brewroom was big, it included enough space for a yeast lab, storage area, beer conditioning and an awesome brewing setup. I brewed on that all grain setup for three years and produced some of the greatest tasting beers ever. I looked forward to my time brewing there and inviting fellow brewers over to share recipes, beers, new ideas and to lend a hand from time to time. 

High Gravity Electric Brew In A Bag
Being only months away from moving into the new place I decided that building my next brewroom around an electric brewing system would be the best way go. I'll admit at first I had no idea exactly what the pros and cons of using electric were versus gas powered brewing systems. I soon found myself doing a ton of research to learn everything I could about the electric option and it's benefits over gas. Understanding the power line size was pretty straightforward, there's a lot of useful information on the manufacturer websites to help with that and other concepts. 

A dedicated 220 volt 30 amp GFIC is used to power a 4 wire 30 amp receptacle located near the brewing area and as with any indoor brewroom setup adequate ventilation is an absolute necessity. With electric brewing though we only need to exhaust boil vapors and brewing aromas to maintain a safe and comfortable working environment. Unlike gas powered systems electric brewing systems don't consume oxygen and they don't produce poisonous carbon monoxide so there's no need to worry about exhausting poisonous fumes too. There are other things to consider when comparing electric verses gas like the lower installation cost of a 30 amp 220 volt electric line compared to installing a gas line to power the brewing system.

Indoor brewrooms powered by gas burners have to be well ventilated to quickly remove poisonous combustion gases and replace them with fresh makeup air. As the volume of air required to maintain a safe and healthy brewroom environment gets higher the more cubic feet per minute (CFM) of fresh air the exhaust system will need to remove and replace. In my gas powered brewroom I used two 7,000 btu gas burners to heat the mash and boil the wort for a combined rating of 14,000 btus. 

Using the same cfm calculations published by John Blichmann in BYO Magazine for their November 2012 issue the 14,000 btus created by the gas burners divided by 30 require approximately 450 cubic feet per minute of make up air to change the air in the brew room. The electric powered brewroom will measure approximately 20 feet by 20 feet by 10 feet high and hold nearly 4,000 cubic feet of space. When 4,000 cubic feet is multiplied by the 8 air changes per hour it comes out to 32,000, then further dividing 32,000 by 60 produced the 533 CFM needed to change the brewroom air about 8 times every hour.


Room Dimension Change Room Air
Length   Feet Every  Minutes
Width   Feet Size   Cubic Ft.
Height   Feet
 

As far as heating efficiency goes a gas burner loses about 50% of it's BTU rating because the heat produced by the flame rapidly radiates outward and away from the wort in the brew kettle. Electric powered kettles are 100% efficient because the heating elements are in contact with the wort at all times. Due to these major differences in heating efficiencies an electric heating element rated at 5,000 watts is capable of heating wort at the same rate as an 18,000 BTU gas burner. The standard calculation used to convert watts to BTUs per hour is to take the wattage of an electric heating element and times it by 3.412, the answer represents the number of BTUs. (Example: A 220 volt 5,000 watt heating element times 3.412 converts to 18,766 btus per hour.)


Sunday, September 29, 2013

For The Love Of Wheat

As a homebrewer it's probably happened to you too I'm sure. You've selected the perfect blend of hops and grains, brewed them all together in just the right amounts and then fermented them into one great tasting beer. That beer then became so popular with friends and family that it was gone within a week and folks were upset that they never got to try it. Times like that really got me started looking for ways to double my brewday output to get 10 gallons of beer instead of my usual 5 gallons, using my current brewing setup and in about the same amount of time as a typical brewday.

Using Two 5 Gallon Mash Tuns For A 10 Gallon Batch
I knew right from the start that the most challenging part of my double brewday would be using the available burners on hand to make up enough hot strike water to use for lautering and sparging the extra volume. I've been brewing all grain beer indoors on a small gas stove with 4 burners for about 2 years now and a single 5 gallon batch was pretty easy to brew, doing 10 gallons was going to require a bit more planning. My brewing setup used 2 gas burners to keep hot strike water heating up for sparging with the remaining 2 burners under my 10 gallon brew kettle for the boil. I wrote a post about a year ago about building an aluminum burner frame to improve heating and cooling efficiencies on brewday. It's a worthwhile project for those of you considering the benefits of brewing indoors and shortening your brewdays.

A Layer Of Thick Aluminum Foil Will Make Spills Easy To Clean

I've brewed this recipe many times over the past several years in 5 gallon extract and then all grain batches so I figured the easiest way for me to scale up to 10 gallons would be to simply mash identical recipes in 2 mash tuns and then lauter the wort into 2 separate boil pots. When I first decided to get into all grain brewing I chose to be a single infusion mash and fly sparger right from the very start. The first step I took to get into all grain brewing was to build my own mash tun using off the shelf parts purchased at my local big box hardware store. The initial design worked so well for me that a few months later I went ahead and built another one just in case I needed the extra capacity.

Brewday preparations got under way early in the week when I got the yeast starters spinning on the stirplates, the goal here was to pitch around 250 billion cells into 2 separate 6.5 gallon Ale Pails that I would use for fermentation. Both of the 2 liter yeast starters were made from ECY-10 yeast I had washed from a previous batch of 420 Special Wheat brewed back in June 2013. The starter wort gravity was between 1.030 - 1.040, made with a cup of extra light DME, 2 liters of filtered water and a pinch of yeast nutrient. Once the krausen had dropped the yeast were given time to absorb nutrients to store before going dormant. I cold crash my starters until brewday morning and then decant them before pitching, there's definitely opposing views this and pitching starters when they're at high krausen. I have been getting really great attenuation rates when decanting off the starter wort so I stick with this method.

Two 2 Liter Starters Of Generation 2 ECY-10 Washed Yeast
My favorite recipe for an American Wheat beer uses about 12 pounds of a barley and wheat mixture made up of mostly German and Belgian grains. It also contains some other interesting ingredients often found in traditional Witbier recipes too, things like grains of paradise, coriander and bitter orange peel for flavor and a bit of spice. What really sets this recipe apart from a traditional Witbier is the use of ECY-10 yeast and some very generous flavor and aroma hopping using only American "C" hops. A couple of pounds of honey to lends just a slight hint of residual sweetness while boosting the alcohol level into the 8% range. The important thing to keep in mind when reading this description is that none of the ingredients are at all cloying. The idea is to brew them together in balance so that no one ingredient stands out in front. You want the citrusy hints that coriander provides working in harmony with the bitter orange and spice, you don't want to sip it and taste any one of them individually.

Pilsener, Wheat, Munich, Biscuit, Honey Spices And Lots Of Hops

After allowing for grain and hop absorption and boil off and a 90 minute boil my preboil wort volume needed to be somewhere around 13 gallons. In order to do a full wort boil I had to use use my 10 gallon kettle along with a 5 gallon pot I usually used for heating strike water. The lack of gas burners also meant I had to boil enough water ahead of time to store in a corny keg and use it later to make up the 170F sparge water I needed to collect enough wort. The single infusion mash took 60 minutes and fly sparging took another 60 minutes of lautering to collect the wort from both mash tuns into my kettle and boil pot. Even with all the careful planning I had done before brewday I ended coming up short on having enough 170F sparge water to lauter both mash tuns at the same time. I wasn't too disappointed though since the beer finished around 5.1% alcohol which would still make for a fairly strong wheat beer anyway. My calculated original gravity was 1.070 and the actual original gravity was 1.054 but it thanks to a healthy pitch of ECY 10 it finished at 1.014 and tasted really good.

Brew Yourself A Batch Of Golden Liquid Sunshine And Feel The Glow

I've since brewed this same exact recipe again in a 5 gallon batch and hit my target gravity dead on at 1.070, the difference in the 10 gallon batch was caused by not having hot enough sparge water to rinse all the sugars out of the grain bed. This latest batch is kegged and force carbonating now and it finished at 1.008 for a 8.3% alcohol content which is perfect for an early "Northeastern Fallen Wheat" beer, hey I just named a new style of wheat beer! It's loaded with American hop flavor and aroma, somewhere between an IPA and a Witbier but without any yeasty flavors, it's a really great tasting beer with a warming finish for the cool weather we're having here now. Whether you're interested in brewing up a refreshing wheat beer as a summertime cooler or as a transitional Fall wheat beer before switching over to brewing darker Stouts, Brown and Cascadian Dark Ales this recipe with a little tweaking will work for you too.

Screwy's 420 Special Wheat Recipe: Style - American Wheat

Original IBU = 39, SRM = 7, OG = 1.070, FG = 1.008, ABV = 8.3%

0.50 pound Munch (German)
0.50 pound Biscuit (Belgium)
2.00 pounds Honey
2.50 pounds Wheat (German)
3.00 pounds Flaked Wheat
6.00 pounds Pilsner (Belgian)
-----------
12.50 Total grain bill

0.50 ounces Columbus pellets
2.75 ounces Cascade pellets
1.00 ounces Centennial pellets
------
4.75 ounces Total Hop bill


0.50 teaspoon freshly crushed coriander seed
0.50 teaspoon ground Cardamom or Grains of paradise
0.50 ounce dry bitter orange peel
1.00 tablespoon gypsum (optional)

2 Liter starter of  ECY10 - Old Newark Ale™ decanted (250 billion cells)

Infusion Mash @ 152° F For 60 Minutes:
------------------------------------------------
Add a cup of Pilsener malt then alternate with a cup of rice hulls to the mash tun
Then add a cup of Pilsener malt then alternate with a cup of wheat malt to the mash tun
Once all the malted grains and rice hulls are in the tun add strike water
Mix well and adjust mash temperature to 152° F
Add flaked wheat to the top of the mash tun and cover with 1 inch of water

Add .50 oz. of Columbus hops to the kettle and collect 6.5 gallons of wort for preboil volume
At 17 minutes left to the boil add 1 oz. Cascade and .25 oz. of Centennial pellet hops
At 12 minutes left to the boil add 2 pounds of honey to boil
At 10 minutes add .50 tab of WhirFloc, Coriander, Cardamom and dry bitter orange
At 7 minutes left to the boil add 1 oz. Cascade and .25 oz. of Centennial pellet hops
At 5 minutes  left to the boil at .50 oz. yeast nutrient
At knock out add 1 oz. Cascade and .50 oz. of Centennial pellet hops let cool to 170F
Remove all hops and quickly cool to 68F pitching temperature

Fermentation And Conditioning

The yeast starter temperature should be at or near 68F
Whirlpool the wort then transfer to the fermentor leaving the cold break in the kettle
Oxygenate the wort using pure o2 for 1 minute just prior to pitching the yeast
Decant the beer off of the starter leaving just enough to swirl the yeast into solution for pitching
Pitch the yeast and set the fermentor in a room that's about 65-68F for a week
Drop hop using 1 oz. Cascade and .25 oz. of Centennial pellet hops in a weighted mesh bag
After a week move the fermentor to a 36F refrigerator for a week or two to condition
Transfer the beer while cold to a cony keg and force carbonate cold at 12psi for a week

A Little Bit About The Process

Right after flameout as the boiled wort cools in the kettle the addition of knock out hops adds a form of aroma that lasts longer when the beer is packaged than typical late hop additions. Hops will continue to isomerize in the kettle until the temperature drops below 170F allowing the wort to absorb more of the volatile hop oils that are otherwise boiled off when added as late hop additions to the boil. When you think about it there are actually 3 forms of adding aroma hops to your beer. The first and probably the best know of the three is by adding hops to the boil with 7 minutes or less left to the boil, second is the addition of hops at knock out and the third is dry hopping. Each of the three methods contribute aroma to the finished beer in different ways and allow us brewers to produce really great tasting beer. I for one have adopted all three methods into my recipes even though my batches of brew rarely survive more than a month.

I noticed something that got me thinking a long time ago when I first started decanting my yeast starters, the cold temperatures actually helped the yeast settle out of solution leaving the starter beer on top of the yeast cake crystal clear. This turned out to be more than just another 'beerpiphany' it was actually a proven fact! Let me explain. Over the past few years I've narrowed down my 'go to' yeast strains to just one per year. My goal was to use a yeast strain to ferment my ingredients without leaving it's mark on the finished beer. What I was after was a very clean fermenting yeast that produced as little esters as possible while providing better than average attenuation, oh and did I mention it had to adapt to my brewing environment too?

Cold Crashing And Clearer Beer In 3 Days
The colder beer temperatures tell the yeast 'hey it's time to settle out and go dormant for a while' so they suck up as many fermentation precursors as possible and store them away to use as energy when and if they wake up again. What this means to a brewer is that hey my beer is tasting extremely crisp and clean lately, and life is good. With a healthy pitch of yeast my fermentations are typically finished within a week and a tell tale fermentation ring is left on the inside of the fermentors, usually about 2 to 3 inches wide. By dry hopping the beer for another week the yeast are sure to have enough time to absorb nutrients they need and in the process cleanup after themselves any precursors that otherwise would influence the taste and flavor of the finished beer. Now on top of all that flavor cleanup that the yeast cells have done to the beer putting the fermentor in the refrigerator will get those yeast cells to drop out of suspension too and settle out on the very bottom of the fermentor where they'll stay put when we package our beer. Of course the other additional benefit to cold crashing the fermentor is when we package our beer in kegs for force carbonating since the colder beer will absorb Co2 quicker making it easier to carbonate too.

Summing It Up

Well there you have it, my complete recipe and brewing process from grain crush to glass. To sum it all up and put a nice bow on this post think quality ingredients, boil and knock out additions, good yeast management, fast and furious fermentations, dry hopping and conditioning, because they all lead up to that perfect pour that keeps you and everyone else coming back for more.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Easy Cornelius Keg Modification For Clearer Pours

The beloved 'Corny' keg has to be the brewer's best friend, time saver, ideal beer storage and serving device ever made! Originally manufactured for the Pepsi-Cola Company by the IMI Cornelius Company for distributing soda syrup to the beverage industry it is coveted by homebrewers everywhere. These lightweight stainless steel kegs are very easy to clean, sanitize and use for serving perfectly carbonated draft beer.

Ball Lock Cornelius Keg Or Corny Keg For Short

This Pepsi-Cola inspired design has two connectors located at the top of the keg, one for gas in and the other for liquid out and are commonly referred to as Ball Locks. Another nice feature of a ball lock keg is the pressure relief valve conveniently mounted on the oval keg lid. The keg lid design is large enough to allow for easy cleaning and inspection of the inside of the keg too.

Some corny kegs were made by Firestone for the Coca-Cola Company and are commonly referred to as Pin Locks. The two soda giants wanted to make sure that their syrups couldn't be easily switched to their rival's product without changing a lot of other equipment too. That's why pin lock kegs and parts are not compatible with ball lock kegs and parts. Although some pin lock kegs can be converted to ball locks, depending on the type of keg and the threads used to install the locks, only Cornelius keg parts are interchangeable with Cornelius kegs.

Beer Taps Will Connect To Corny Kegs Using Pin Or Ball Locks
Before transferring my beer to the corny keg I first let the fermentor sit undisturbed in a refrigerator for a week to let the yeast and trub fall out of solution. It's basically the same principal used when decanting a yeast starter, the cold temperature helps the yeast settle to the bottom of the flask leaving the wort above it very clear. After a week I keg the beer cold into a corny keg, put the keg back in the refrigerator and connect the Co2 line to force carbonate the beer inside.

Since I don't filter the beer before kegging it a certain amount of trub still builds up on the bottom of the keg as the beer sits inside waiting to be served and as the keg empties the pours become clearer. The very first pour from the keg seems to contain the most trub and the pours become clearer with each pour until the keg is kicked. To reduce the amount of trub in each pour I decided to shorten the length of the corny keg dip tube by half an inch, keeping the end of the tube that much further away from the sediment at the bottom of the keg.

Remove The Dip Tube Using An Adjustable Wrench
The dip tube on my corny kegs are made of stainless steel and are easily removed using an adjustable wrench, turning the ball lock posts in a counter clockwise direction. This is really easy to do even by the least mechanically inclined. The idea at this point is to simply unscrew the ball lock connector from the threaded keg post marked 'Out' on the top of the keg and remove it and the dip tube.

The Dip Tube Is Located Underneath The Ball Lock
Once unthreaded from the keg the ball lock connector will lift right off exposing the dip tube assembly underneath it. The dip tube is seated on top of the threaded keg post and is very easy to remove with your fingers.

Lift Dip Tube Out Of The Keg Post
The dip tube has a slight bend in it, just enough so that when tightened the tube end will be centered inside the keg. Most corny kegs have an inch and a half wide dimple that's about half an inch deep centered at the bottom to act as a reservoir for trub. Shortening the dip tube will increase the volume of this reservoir allowing it to hold more trub, providing clearer beer to reach your tap handles.

Use A Small Tubing Cutter To Shorten The Dip Tube
Once the dip tube has been removed use a ruler and a pencil to mark the dip tube where you want to cut it. I chose to mark the dip tube half an inch from the end although you may want to mark yours a bit longer or shorter depending on how much trub your beer contains. Adjust the tubing cutter to loosely fit the dip tube by turning the small wheel at the top, then slide the cutter until the small blade at the other end aligns with your pencil mark. The tubing is cut by tightening the small wheel and rotating the cutter around the tubing, keep repeating this until the tubing is cut and you're done.

The Cleanly Cut Dip Tube
I bought my tubing cutter a while back to use when I built my first wort immersion chiller and it's still like brand new. As long as the cutting wheel is sharp and doesn't have any chips in it the dip tube will cut extremely clean with no burrs or sharp edges that would require a light sanding. Now that the dip tube has been shortened and checked for imperfections all that's left is to give it a good rinse under running water and reinstall it on the keg.

Tighten The Ball Lock Keeping Dip Tube Centered
This is the fun part. Slide the newly cut dip tube into the hole of the 'Out' post and swing it until it's centered in the keg directly over the reservoir dimple at the bottom. Rinse off with water then hand tighten the ball lock connector on top of the dip tube, at this point the ball lock connector will still need about a quarter turn with the adjustable wrench before it's fully secured to prevent leaking. From this point on it's just trial and error getting the end of the dip tube centered directly over the reservoir as you tighten the connector using the wrench. It took me no lees than three tries until I was able to move the end of the dip tube off center enough until when fully tightened it ended up directly on center of the keg.

Flush The Dip Tube With Water Before Using
Another nice feature of the ball lock connector is that the gas 'In' connector can also be used to fit the liquid 'Out' connector for cleaning. Although the connectors are not designed to be interchangeable and the gas connector won't snap onto the liquid post you can still flush the dip tube with running water using the same gas connector.

Shortened Dip Tube 420 Special Wheat First Pour

Since shortening the dip tubes on all of my corny kegs I have been pouring noticeably clearer and cleaner tasting drafts. I forced carbonated my latest batch of wheat beer five days ago and have been sampling a pint or two each day for a few days now. Even for a wheat beer which by it's very nature is protein rich and cloudy under the best of circumstances these drafts have a cleaner taste and a rich aroma with not a hint of yeast. The 420 Special Wheat is an American Wheat beer style that combines both a huge IPA like hop aroma with a Witbier like citrusy yet not too spicy flavor that makes for a really refreshing beer.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Change Your Brewing Schedule To Match The Season

It's getting on towards the end of the cooler weather up here in the great northeastern United States and time to take a break from drinking our traditional cold weather beers for awhile. The warmer weather we've been having has me and lots of other beer lovers thirsting for some really golden refreshingly awesome summertime beers again. For me there's no better beer to fill this need than a nice cold citrusy American Wheat beer because they are perfect for drinking on a warm sunny day.

Screwer In The Rye Ale
I've got about half a corny keg of my Screwer In The Rye Ale left to drink until only fond memories remain of this amazing beer for a awhile. In order to keep up with the changing seasons now is the time to ramp up my wheat beer brewing schedule again so there's plenty of cold refreshing wheat beer on tap to keep up with the warm weather demand. It's clear to me that most beer drinkers like to drink light colored lower alcohol beers during the summer months and drink the dark higher alcohol beers during the cooler months of the year.

I know that's how I'm feeling now since this past fall and winter's brewing schedule included plenty of dark beers like Cascadian Dark Ale, Irish Stout and Brown Ale. Screwer In The Rye is very citrusy with a hint of flaked rye spiciness and just enough chocolate malt to give it a darker warmer color and my Yakima Valley clone is a deep dark citrusy high alcohol warmer upper best served during the colder months.

Summer Is Perfect For Drinking Wheat Beer

In contrast my 420 Special Wheat is light in color, citrusy with a slight hint of spice almost unnoticeable amount of coriander with a clean refreshing finish. Pitched and fermented using a decanted 2 liter starter made from second generation East Coast Yeast ECY10 - Old Newark Ale™ yeast I washed from a batch of beer fermented last month.

But the truth be told I am fascinated with the thought of reaching into my yeast library, grabbing a few vials of previously washed yeast and making up a nice starter from it to pitch into my next batch of beer. I know for a fact from brewing previous batches of wheat beer that ECY-10, ECY-12 and WLP-001 will all ferment a really great tasting American Wheat beer. Just be sure to toss in some citrusy hops and some bitter orange peel and you and your beer will be good to go.

Screwy's 420 Special Wheat

Friday, May 24, 2013

Screwing With Tubing For Foam Free Pours

Ok, my screen name ain't Screwy for nothing, let's just say over the past two weeks I've dedicated way too much time screwin' around with beer keg lines sizes, tubing lengths and trying my absolute best to get foam free pours. Hey, don't judge me.

Why bother you ask? Ok, well I bought some corny kegs and have found them to be real time savers on packaging day, but taking those kegs to a party requires a Co2 charge for dispensing the beer once you get there. Oh and I bought an insulated cooling jacket complete with freezer safe gel packs to keep the beer cold on the road, so I was invested pretty heavily into this whole idea already too.

Using a drinking water safe 5/16 inch inside diameter vinyl tubing between my Perl tap and the ball lock on the kegs I was getting the perfect pour every time at 7psi and loving it. But to my surprise getting the same quality pour from a portable picnic tap was proving to be a major PITA! So without further ado this is what I've learned after all this.

I eventually found out that using the same 5/16 inch inside diameter tubing, cut to 48 inches long, with the same 5-7psi serving pressure the pours were perfect every time. But surprisingly enough I also found out that when using a picnic tap on the road I really needed to use a tubing with a 1/4 inch inside diameter, cut to 12 inches long to get identical pours like the one at home!

The moral of the story is this, don't be afraid to experiment with any aspects of brewing, from hot side to packaging and all steps in between for homebrewer''s like us there's really only one way to find out what works best. Read what the 'pros' publish, use your head and try different things, lots of times that's the only sure way to find out what actually works best for you.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Brewin' The 420 Special Wheat Beer

This weekend I brewed my very first batch of warm weather drinking beer, my all time refreshing favorite too, a summer wheat beer. The recipes starts out with a good amount of Munich malt, a bit of CaraVienne malt added for good measure, a fair amount of German Wheat malt with half as much Flaked Wheat. This current version is an all grain recipe that I've developed myself over the years, it was originally an extract recipe with steeping grains using Muntons Wheat DME and some dry wheat yeast I rehydrated.

420 Special Wheat
I pitched a nice healthy 2 liter starter, made from 2nd generation East Coast Yeast ECY10 - Old Newark Ale™ yeast, it's one of my favorites and I use it now for brewing most of my Ales. I should call it the Special International Wheat beer since the recipe's yeast is American, but more than likely an English strain brought to the US by Peter Ballantine himself way back in the early 1800's.

2 Liter Starter Of East Coast Yeast ECY10 - Old Newark Ale™
The addition of German malts, English yeast and American Citrus hops makes this a really special beer that has a style all it's own. Adding a tiny amount of freshly crushed Coriander, one small pinch Grains of Paradise seed and about an ounce of bitter orange peel to the grain bill creates a very interesting wheat beer that's refreshing and citrusy.

 The choice of yeast for this recipe makes all the difference in the world, especially if you've never been a fan of those styles fermented with heavy flavor German yeasts. I find using a clean well attenuating strain like White Labs WLP001 - California Ale Yeast™ or East Coast Yeast ECY10 - Old Newark Ale™ fermented at 65F gives this recipe an IPA like flavor and aroma with little influence from the yeast itself.