Friday, July 10, 2015

Using The Blichmann BeerGun™

This month I share my very first experience using the Blichmann BeerGun™ to fill up some 12 ounce bottles. Previously in last month's update I documented how I connected the BeerGun™ to my existing kegging system. Since getting the beer gun connected I was able to brew a batch of my Orange Sunshine Belgian Witbier and put it on tap. This beer tasted so good and I enjoyed drinking it so much that I decided to bottle it up and take it with me on vacation. So with ten gallons of this delicious tasting beer force carbonated and ready to drink all I had to do was sanitize some bottles, hook the beer gun up and fill them up for the trip. 

I started to appreciate the benefits of filling bottles with carbonated beer right away. Having the same level of carbonation in your bottled beer as you have in your draft beer is definitely a huge plus. For one thing you no longer have to wait weeks for natural carbonation to occur then hope the beer had carbonated the way you planned. Bottling beer cold right from the same keg you've been pouring your drafts from eliminates any inconsistencies in carbonation levels. Another added bonus is not having to worry about the trub produced from priming sugar clouding up the beer. This becomes even more important when transporting or shipping bottles as they lay on their side getting jostled around.

Blichmann Beer Gun All Ready To Fill Some Bottles

Getting A Handle On The Handle

The first time I used the BeerGun™ to fill bottles it took me a little while to figure out the best way to maneuver it around the brew room. At first I wasn't used to working with something that trailed beer and Co2 lines behind it wherever it went. It didn't take long before I learned how to grip the gun comfortably enough to try and fill a few bottles. Soon after filling those first bottles it was easy to remember how the gun worked. Pressing the small button valve released Co2 from the tip of the beer gun into the bottle to purge it of oxygen. The flat handled valve when pulled back slowly released cold carbonated beer from the tip of the gun filling the bottles from the bottom up.
 
The steps required to fill the bottles were simple enough. Stick the beer gun barrel into the bottle until the tip touches the bottom of the bottle. Press the button valve for a few seconds to release Co2 inside the bottle to purge any oxygen from the bottle. Pull the flat handle valve to release cold beer into the bottle filling it up from the bottom to the top. With the bottle filled with beer remove the gun from the bottle and then place the tip of the gun even with the top of the bottle. Press the Co2 button valve and release it to replace any oxygen in the neck of the bottle with Co2. Lay a bottle cap on top of the bottle loosely to prevent anything from falling inside and to hold the Co2 in place until you're ready to cap the bottle.

Co2 Connections Go To Beer Gun And Keg

Get Organized And Keep It Cool

I found it much easier to move the gun and tubing around from place to place when both the gas and beer lines were neatly twist tied together. In this way the two lines acted like a single line with both bending and flexing together at the same time. Doing this kept the lines from twisting and kinking and putting a lot of unwanted strain on the gun itself. When filling six or more bottles at a time having as little resistance as possible on the gun makes the job of filling bottles much easier to do.    

When filling the bottles I recommend putting the bottles in a container deep enough to hold any beer that is sure to be spilled. I didn't use one and had to hose down the unpainted brewroom floor once I was done bottling, that's probably not something you will want to do inside your home though. Another thing I did was to setup my filling station so that the beer in the kegs would stay cold inside the refrigerator the entire time the bottles were being filled. The beer and gas lines sneak out through the small opening left between the refrigerator and the door's gasket. Filling chilled bottles with nice cold beer is the best way to reduce or eliminate foaming when bottling.

Cold Carbonated Beer In The Refrigerator And Beer Gun Ready To Go
I came up with a brilliant idea for chilling down bottles after they have been sanitized without having to put them inside a freezer. A large cooler holds about 30 twelve ounce bottles standing up with bottle caps loosely covering their tops. With the bottles covered so nothing falls inside them I carefully laid mats of frozen ice packs on top of the bottle caps and closed the cooler lid. By the time I finished sanitizing the beer gun and connecting the Co2 and beer lines the bottles had all been chilled down nice and cold and were ready for filling. I found that filling the cold bottles with the inside of the bottles still slightly wet with sanitizer helped to reduce foaming even more. 

Sanitized Bottles With Loose Bottle Caps On Top
The cold ice packs placed on top of the bottle caps does a great job of cooling down the bottles in preparation for filling. When filling them I was surprised to see that many of the bottle caps had sealed tightly to the tops of the bottles creating a slight vacuum that could be felt when lifting the caps off. It's always important to maintain good sanitization practices during the filling process especially if you plan on storing your bottled beer for several months before drinking it.

Reusable Ice Packs Are A Good Way To Chill Bottles

Settle In And Get Comfortable

I like to fill my bottles while I'm sitting in a chair and the bottles, caps and capper are on the floor next to me. This way I can reach into the cooler and get six or so bottles ready to fill and then cap them without having to get up. Once you get yourself organized the plan should be to rip through the filling process as quickly as possible. Even when using a beer gun the process of bottling beer is not exactly in my top five list of fun things to do.

Getting Comfortably Setup And Organized Saves Time
For my setup I turned the Co2 gauge down to read between 3-4 pounds of pressure. I found that setting worked the best to push the beer into the bottles without foaming while providing enough force to purge the bottles of air before and after filling them. I first inserted the barrel of the gun down to the bottom of the bottle and pressed the Co2 button for a few seconds to replace any room air in the bottle with Co2. Doing this will help to preserve the beer and prevent it from oxidizing while stored in the bottle.

Purge Room Air From Bottle With Co2 Before Adding Beer

Filling The Bottles With Beer

With everything needed for bottling laid out and within easy reach it didn't take long for the process to develop a nice rhythm. Remove the cap then purge the air, fill with beer then purge the air, replace the cap then do the next, then cap, then cap, then cap... In between all the filling and purging eventually you'll need to put the beer gun down for a while to use both hands for something. Having a bottle or container that's filled with StarSan and sturdy enough to hold the gun without tipping over comes in handy. I also kept a small dump container nearby to use when emptying beer from the gun or bottles if needed.

In Between Fills Put Your Gun In A Holster That Won't Tip Over
The barrel diameter of the beer gun is designed so it will leave just the right amount of headspace above the beer once the bottle has been filled and the gun removed. By placing the tip of the barrel just above the top of the bottle and giving the Co2 valve a short squeeze any air in the headspace will be replaced with Co2. This extra step is recommended especially if you plan to store your bottled beer for an extended period of time. After only a few tries the task of purging room air from the headspace in the bottles became intuitive and very easy to do.

Purge Room Air From Headspace With Co2 Before Capping
Simple Care And Maintenance

Soon after a bottle filling session it's important to clean out the beer line and gun in order to keep it working like new. Cleaning the gun and line is no different than cleaning out your beer tap and serving lines. A corny keg connected to a Co2 gauge and filled with a half gallon of StarSan works perfectly to flush any beer out of the gun. After pushing about a quart of StarSan solution through the beer line and gun replace the StarSan in the keg with clean warm water and repeat the process.  

One brewer I know reported having an issue with the little rubber stopper on the end of the beer gun. He claimed the rubber stopper on his gun became soft and sticky after an extended time sitting in StarSan. For that one reason alone I prefer to give the gun and lines a good rinse with clean warm water after running StarSan through them. Another brewer claimed the rubber stopper on his gun came off and landed inside the bottle he was filling. Once that happened the only way to stop the beer from flowing was to disconnect the beer line from the keg.

After filling about 60 bottles I haven't had either of those things happen to me. Fortunately replacement parts for the Blichmann BeerGun™ are readily available in case you need to order additional parts at any time. The replacement tip can currently be ordered from the Adventures In Homebrewing website for less than $3.00 USD. You can also order Blichmann BeerGun™ replacement parts from any of their many authorized dealers.


It's All Good

It's been nearly a week now since I returned home from vacation where the real test of the beer I bottled took place. Out of the 30 bottles I took with me only three of them found their way back home. The rest of the beers were shared with some of my beer loving family members who really liked it a lot. The Orange Sunshine Belgian Witbier is a nice refreshing session beer that's just perfect on hot summer days and warm summer nights. More than that each beer was evenly carbonated and very clean tasting right out of the cooler even after a 110 mile drive down the Garden State Parkway.

Looking back I have nothing but fond memories of a vacation shared with family, filled with good food and plenty of great tasting beer. For me nothing could have been more rewarding than to have tested out a new bottling method and knowing it passed with flying colors. Going by the results of a long holiday weekend get away I have every reason to think bottling beer for long term storage will prove to be just as successful as this short run. In fact I have ten gallons of my Hiphopapocalypse IPA that's nearly ready for packaging and plan on using my Blichmann BeerGun™ again soon.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Setting Up The Blichmann BeerGun™

Over the years I had read plenty of mixed reviews about the Blichmann BeerGun™ before actually pulling the trigger and getting one for myself. It seemed that the two most common BeerGun™ complaints posted by brewers had to do with its overall cost and how under some conditions beer bottled using the BeerGun™ could be under carbonated. I had been interested in finding an alternative to bottle carbonating my beer using priming sugar for years, but I had put off using a BeerGun™ for a very long time. That is until I toured the Triumph Brewery in Princeton NJ and saw that they had been using a Blichmann BeerGun™ to fill up their new line of 750ml bottles! I figured if the BeerGun™ was good enough for a commercial brewery to use to package their beer then it had to be good enough for me.

Blichman Beer Gun Ready To Go
The BeerGun™ and it's accessory kit, which I highly recommend you order when ordering the BeerGun™, a new two way wye fitting and a shut off valve currently retail for under $150.00 USD. For the installation in my brew room I decided to add a wye fitting to my existing Co2 gauge in order to add a second shutoff valve and gas line to the gauge. The second line would then be used to push Co2 to the gun for purging the bottles and when the gun wasn't in use the second line could be used to carbonate or serve a second keg of beer that was in the refrigerator. For me that was a win/win since I often carbonated two kegs at the same time by frequently switching the Co2 line between the gas in post of both kegs until they were both carbonated. The addition of the second gas line would allow me to truly set and forget once and for all when force carbonating two kegs at the same time.

The Blichmann Beer Gun Package

The Blichmann BeerGun™ comes with the gun, a ten foot length of 3/16 inch ID vinyl beer line and a beer line brush for cleaning the rigid metal tubing of the gun. The beer gun I received was already assembled when I opened the box. All I had to do was clip the flat metal handle of the beer valve onto the rigid metal inner beer tube on the gun and clamp (included in the accessory kit) the vinyl beer line to the end of the same tube. To make the remaining connections needed in order to use the Beer Gun I used the additional parts that came with the Beer Gun Accessory Kit.

Blichmann Beer Gun Accessory Kit

The Blichmann BeerGun™ Accessory Kit comes with a five foot length of 1/4 inch ID vinyl gas line tubing (I wish it were 10 foot long). The gas line tubing had two 1/4 inch stainless steel swivel connectors clamped to the ends. A threaded brass flare connection is included too. The brass threads get wrapped with Teflon tape and then carefully threaded into the Co2 valve on the Beer Gun and tightened. Once the brass flare connector is installed on the gun the gas line tubing is used to connect the Beer Gun to a threaded flare connection on a ball lock gas line connector (sold separately).

Swivel Connectors To Beer Gun And Gas Line Connector

The use of swivel connectors in the line allows the beer and gas line configurations to be changed a lot easier than I had been used to. With the twist of a wrench the connectors can be switched over from the ball lock gas connector to the gas valve on the Beer Gun without having to use a screwdriver on any clamps or a knife to trim the vinyl tubing. With the Beer Gun assembled and all of the required connections made it was time to add another gas line to my gauge to be used by the gun to purge bottles with Co2 before filling them.

Beer Gun, Corny Keg And The Three Connections Needed

Making The Connections to the gun is a little different than when connecting a keg to a beer tap using a single gas in and a beer out line. I plan on leaving my kegs of carbonated beer inside the refrigerator to keep cold the entire time I bottle my beer. I chose for my installation to run a new 10 foot length of gas line from the Co2 gauge through the refrigerator wall and to put a swivel connector on the end. The new gas line supplies the Co2 to the gun that it then uses to purge air out of the bottles before they're filled with beer.  

Co2 And Beer Lines Run From Inside The Refrigerator
The existing gas line supplies the Co2 to the keg that's used to push beer out to the gun. The new beer line is connected to gun and the beer out post of the keg inside the refrigerator. With the keg of beer kept cold inside the refrigerator and the new gas and beer lines connected and tested the Beer Gun is ready to sanitize and use for filling bottles. When using the gun I tie the beer and gas lines together using twist ties and then run the lines outside of the refrigerator through the small gap created when the door is left slightly open.  

Adding The Second Gas Line provided my first installation surprise when I tried to remove the existing shut off valve from the Co2 gauge. I quickly found out that I would need a bench vise to hold the gauge body in place while I unscrewed the parts from it. Luckily I found an old bench vise on a shelf in the brew room and after a bit of wrench muscling and gently applying Teflon tape to some threads I was able to reconfigure the Co2 gauge using the new wye fitting and shutoff valves.

Co2 Gauge Modification For Second Gas Line

After removing the shut off valve from the gauge body I wrapped Teflon tape around it's threads and the threads of the second shut off valve and then put the wye fitting snugly into the vise to hold it steady. As I tightened both shut off valves into the wye fitting I made sure they were both squarely aligned with each other, this was done mainly for aesthetics to make the installation look as neat as possible.

A Bench Vise Makes Fitting Changes Much Easier
I was fortunate enough to find a spare gas line shut off valve beer parts cabinet and I used that to screw into the wye for the second gas line. With all of the parts on hand I carefully removed the existing gas line shut off valve from the Co2 gauge body using an adjustable wrench. A bench vise was needed to hold the gauge body from turning as I applied a good deal of torque needed to unscrew the shut off valve from the gauge body.

Threading The Two Shut Off Valves Into The Wye Fitting

With the shut off valve removed I wrapped the male end of the wye fitting with Teflon tape and carefully threaded it into the gauge body. I removed the gauge from the vise and tightened the wye fitting in its place and then wrapped the threaded ends of the shut off valves with Teflon tape. Next I carefully threaded both shut off valves into the wye fitting and tightened them snugly. Putting the gauge back into the vise I used the adjustable wrench to tighten the wye fitting snugly into to gauge body.

Co2 Gauge With Wye Fitting And Shut Off Valves

Once all of the fittings were tightened onto the gauge I connected the gauge to the Co2 tank and then marked out the side of the refrigerator where the hole for the second gas line would go. I found that the 5 foot length of 1/4 inch ID tubing that came with the Beer Gun accessory kit was too short for my installation and I bought another 10 foot long length to use instead. Thanks to the swivel connectors on the ends of the Beer Gun lines I can now unscrew the keg end gas connector from the new gas line and in its place screw on the gun's gas connector. Now that the beer line and the gas line are both 10 feet long I have plenty of slack in the lines to reach my makeshift filling station where I can easily fill my bottles.

Second Gas Line Modification Completed

As luck would have it my Blichmann BeerGun™ installation coincided with my nearly running out of kegged beer. But I did manage to sanitize and refrigerate a few 12 ounce bottles and test out the new installation by filling them with cold beer. It takes a little time to get used to maneuvering the gun around the brew room when filling bottles but I did find it easy enough to use, clean and sanitize it though. The beers I had filled I later opened after 3 days and they were perfectly carbonated, I should point out that the beer was force carbonated to 15 psi at the time of filling the bottles. Installing and using the Beer Gun was a fun project to install and use and I look forward to having the ability now to bottle my beer without ever having to use priming sugar again.

Blichmann BeerGun™ Manual

The manual is very well written with plenty of pictures that show exactly how the gun and Co2 gauge should be configured to work together. When I received my gun I found that the main tube and connectors were already assembled and I could skip over the pages that explained how that part of the assembly should be done. It's good to have those steps included in the manual though in case you ever need to disassemble the gun for cleaning or repair. I'm in the habit of cleaning up my gun as soon as I'm done using it. I run a mild solution of OxiClean FREE and warm water through the beer line to the gun followed by a warm water only rinse before storing it away. Doing this will prevent any buildup of of dried beer inside the dispensing tube and keep the gun working like new.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

ezBIAB Calculator©


Brew In A Bag Brewing
 
The first time I brewed using my brew in a bag system I wondered how much grain and brewing water would fit inside my kettle without causing it to overflow? Then I wondered how much wort would be left in the kettle after removing the grain bag? Before switching from a traditional three tier system to BIAB these calculations had never been too much of a problem. Having a separate hot liquor tank, mash tun and brew kettle made calculating mash thickness and preboil volumes pretty straightforward.

Soon after I decided to sit down and write a BIAB calculator of my own for a number of reasons. I saw it as a great way to become more familiar with the variables associated with BIAB brewing. I also needed a way to reliably calculate BIAB volumes and gallons, based on the pounds of grain used in my recipes, all at the same time. The very first brewday after using ezBIAB Calculator© I was able to hit all of my BIAB volumes right on target. After calculating how many pounds of grain the recipe would use to reach the gravity I had in mind ezBIAB Calculator© had crunched the numbers for my Hiphopapocalypse IPA® recipe perfectly. 

ezBIAB Calculator©

With BIAB brewing all of the water and grain used in the mash goes into the kettle at the same time. During the mash grain is put inside a fine mesh bag so that sugars can be extracted into the wort without any of the grain getting into the kettle. At the end of the mash the grain and bag are then removed and the wort remaining in the kettle is brought to a boil. The trick in all of this is in not causing the kettle to overflow with too much mash volume during the mash while being able to hit your preboil wort volume after the grain has been removed.

Getting the mash volume to fit inside the kettle without it overflowing and hitting your preboil volume at the same time is like trying to juggle while riding on a see saw. You have to balance the amount of grain and water used in the mash, the mash thickness, the amount of water the grain will absorb and the size of the kettle being used. You also have to make allowances for the wort absorbed by hops, wort left behind in the kettle as cold break and the evaporation of water from the wort during the boil. Those calculations along with wort loss to lines, chillers and tubing are critical in determining your preboil wort volume.  

"In a perfect world the brewer's kettle is always large enough to hold all of the water and grain needed for any recipe. Then after the grain has been removed the wort in the kettle is always perfectly equal to the recipe's pre-boil volume. And at the end of the boil there's always enough cooled wort to fill the fermentor right up to the line. Of course once the fermentation has completed there is enough tasty beer to be packaged into kegs, bottles or cans."

In reality in order to reach your pre-boil volume some make up water has to be added to the kettle once the grain bag has been removed. This happens when the kettle is undersized and unable to hold all of the water and grain required for the mash and boil at the same time. Or if a brewer decides to leave room in the kettle and then reach their pre-boil volume by rinsing the grain with additional hot water. Sparging the grain is useful when brewing high gravity beers requiring a larger percentage of grain. It also results in a thicker mash because there is a lower percentage of water in the kettle during the mash.

Calculating Fermentor Volumes

If the goal is to package 5.00 gallons of beer the fermentor will need to be filled with 5.25 gallons of wort, in order to make up for 0.25 gallons of fermentation trub loss. Fermentor trub loss is made up of yeast, proteins and hop debris that eventually settle out into a compact layer at the bottom of the fermentor. It's the kind of stuff you don't want ending up in your finished beer. The amount of fermentor trub loss will vary with the strain and amount of yeast pitched and the percentage of trub initially transferred to the fermentor from the kettle.

Calculating Kettle Volumes

Kettle trub is made up of break material and proteins formed during the boil that under most conditions will remain in the kettle and not be transferred to the fermentor. In order to have 5.25 gallons of wort to fill the fermentor at the end of the boil the post boil wort volume has to be calculated accurately. If the kettle boils off 1.25 gallons of wort per hour, during a one hour boil, and the kettle trub loss is 0.75 gallons then 2.00 gallons of wort is the total kettle loss. NOTE: Hops will also absorb a small amount of wort during the boil depending on the weight of hops added to the kettle.

By adding the 2.00 gallons of kettle wort loss to the 5.25 gallons of wort needed to go into the fermentor we come up with a pre-boil volume of 7.25 gallons. We prove that by subtracting from the 7.25 gallons of wort pre-boil volume 0.75 gallon for kettle trub loss and 1.25 gallons for boil loss leaving 5.25 gallons of wort left for transferring into the fermentor. After fermentation 0.25 gallon of trub will remain in the fermentor leaving 5.00 gallons of clean beer just waiting to be packaged.

Calculating Mash Volumes

To end up with 7.25 gallons of post boil wort in the kettle, after the grain bag has been removed, several other variables also need to be factored in. With BIAB brewing the entire grain bill is mixed together with brewing water inside the same kettle that will also be used as a mash tun. The ratio of brewing water to grain is used to determine the thickness of the mash which is then used to determine the amount of room the mash will take up in the kettle. Its the sum of the mash volume added to the preboil wort volume that determines what size kettle will be needed to keep the wort from overflowing. When using a kettle that's been right sized for the volume and gravity of the beer your brewing the mash will be thinner than that used in a three tier system.

Figuring out the best kettle size for brewing gravity of beer you brew the most often is very important when brewing BIAB. I always recommend using the largest sized kettle that's practical for your your budget and brewing needs. Getting the wort pre-boil volume correct on brewday is a major milestone in the BIAB brewing process. Using a smaller kettle means you'll be sparging the grain in order to make up for the loss in preboil volume. It also means that your mash will be thicker and depending on how much thicker it will produce a less fermentable mash than a thinner mash would. As you progress in your BIAB brewing you may also want to factor in things like wort loss due to shrinkage as the wort cools down in the kettle or losses in hoses and chillers.  

ezBIAB Calculator©

ezBIAB Quick Start Guide

Whenever the maximum kettle volume is too small to hold the total mash volume results will be displayed in red text. This indicates that the combined grain and water entered will cause the mash inside the kettle to overflow. To resolve this entering a larger maximum kettle volume value and switch to the larger kettle. Or reduce the mash volume by the amount displayed in the 'Kettle/Mash Difference' result.

The calculated value in the 'Kettle/Mash Difference' result will display a positive number when the kettle is large enough to hold all of the water and grain needed for the batch. A negative number will be displayed to indicate that sparging will be required in order to hit the preboil wort volume. **Disable your popup blocker if you don't see the variable details window displayed after clicking on the 'Calculate' button below.**


Maximum Kettle VolumeGallons
Packaged Beer VolumeGallons
Weight of GrainsPounds
Weight of HopsOunces
Brew Kettle Trub LossGallons
Fermentor Trub LossGallons
Length Of BoilMinutes
Boil Off Per HourGallons

Calculated Results
Recipe Water Needed
0.00
Gallons
Total Mash Volume
0.00
Gallons
Kettle/Mash Difference
0.00
Gallons
Mash Thickness
0.00
Qts/Lb
Wort Pre-boil Volume
0.00
Gallons
Wort Post-boil Volume
0.00
Gallons
Fermentor Wort Volume
0.00
Gallons




A Little Mashing Theory Goes A Long Way

As a self proclaimed single infusion mash fly sparger brewing on a traditional three tier brewing system, my goal was to always get my mash thickness as close to 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain. Mash thickness plays a key role in the brewing process when it comes to getting consistent results in your finished beer. With BIAB brewing all of the water volume is mixed with the grain and added to the kettle for mashing at the same time. This creates a much thinner mash than the 1:25 quarts of water per pound of grain used in a traditional mash.

BIAB Conversion And Efficiency

The mash thickness associated with BIAB brewing is much thinner than that used in a three tier system. Due to the higher ratio of water to grain the concentration of converted sugars will be lower, which in turn produces a more fermentable wort. The same higher ratio of water to grain lowers the concentration of enzymes in the wort slowing the breakdown of proteins.

Extended mash times help compensate for the slower conversion rate of a thinner mash and using a mash efficiency of 70% is a good starting point. As with any new brewing system a couple of brewdays are required in order to get your process and efficiencies dialed in more accurately.


Traditional Conversion And Efficiency

The thicker 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain mash thickness, used in traditional brewing, produces a wort that has a higher concentration of enzymes. The higher concentration of enzymes breakdown proteins more efficiently converting starch into sugars faster. Since the ratio of water to grain is lower the concentration of converted sugars will be higher producing a less fermentable wort and a maltier sweeter beer.


Maximum Kettle Volume: The maximum amount of grain and water that the kettle can safely hold before a spill over is likely to occur. Sometimes referred to as the actual working volume of the kettle. Depending on the size of the kettle this can be many gallons less than the kettle's actual gallon rating. In the example below the 62 quart kettle used in my BIAB RIMS setup has a lip located one inch down from the top of the kettle. The top of the grain basket rests on that lip to keep the basket from touching the heating element located at the bottom of the kettle.

A 15.5 Gallon Kettle Safely Holds Just 13 Gallons
In addition to that there is also a spray nozzle mounted in the kettle lid that sprays temperature controlled wort evenly over the grain bed. Keeping a two inch distance between the tip of the nozzle and the top of the wort  maximizes the spray coverage over the largest area of the grain bed. When setting up my ezBIAB calculations I enter 13 gallons for the maximum kettle volume instead of the 15.5 gallon kettle size.


Packaged Beer Volume: This is the total volume of beer that you planned to package into cans, bottles or kegs. When your beer comes out of the fermentor for packaging a layer of yeast, or fermentation trub, will be left behind in the fermentor.

Plan Ahead And Have Enough Fermented Beer To Package

If a fermentor was initially filled with 5 gallons of beer at the end of fermentation a little bit of beer may be lost during fermentation through the airlock or blow off tube too. To allow for beer lost during fermentation, and ensure you end up with enough beer to fulfill you packaging needs, enter the volume of beer expected to be lost during fermentation.


Kettle Trub Loss: This value has more importance for brewers who believe that only wort should ever go into their fermentors. If that is the case then a certain amount of wort and kettle trub will always be left behind in the kettle after filling the fermentor. In my kettle that can amount to as much as three quarts for some recipes that include plenty of hop additions.

Kettle Trub Loss Will Vary With Kettle Size And Brewing Process
For some brewers transferring the kettle trub along with the wort into the fermentor isn't a big deal. I can't imagine kettle trub being magically transformed into drinkable beer during fermentation, and that's where fermentor trub loss will come into play. If you plan to add all of the kettle trub into your fermentor then enter zero as the kettle trub loss, but be sure to include that amount and more in your fermentor trub loss calculation.

If you choose to keep the kettle trub out of your fermentor then add that amount of wort lost to your kettle trub loss calculation. Eliminating kettle trub from going into your fermentor will then allow you to enter a smaller amount of trub loss in the fermentor trub loss calculation. As an example the post boil volume will need to be larger to compensate for the wort and trub left behind in the kettle.


Weight of Grains: This is the total amount grain used in the recipe, here you simply enter the weight of the grains in pounds. The grain weight is used in calculations that determine the grist to water ratio when they are mixed together in the mash tun, also referred to as the thickness of the mash, or the mash thickness. When grain is mixed with water a percentage of that water will be absorbed by the grain, the amount of water absorbed by the grain is referred to as grain absorption.

Weight Of Grains Used In A Recipe
An acceptable method of calculating the percentage of recipe water lost to grain absorption can be expressed simply as the weight of grain times 0.125 equals water lost in gallons. There are some variables outside of this formula that can change the actual amount of water loss although not by much. Squeezing the grains, and the method of squeezing the grains, will extract more wort from the grain and lower the amount of water needed to compensate for the amount of water absorbed by the grain.


Weight of Hops: The total weight of hops used in the recipe, here you simply enter the weight of the hops in ounces. The hop weight, is used in calculations that estimate the amount of water needed, to compensate for wort that will be absorbed by the hops as they sit in the kettle. There are other variables that affect the amount of water lost to hop absorption too. The amount of hops used in the recipe and the type of hops whether flower, whole leaf or pellet will all influence the actual amount of extra water that will be needed.

Weight Of Hops Used In A Recipe
An acceptable method of calculating the percentage of recipe water lost to hop absorption can be expressed simply as the weight of hops times .0.0365 equals water lost in gallons. Here again variables in how the brewer chooses to remove the hops from their wort will affect the amount of water absorption. If hops are added directly to the kettle they eventually end up settling on the bottom of the kettle as trub. If hops are bagged before they're added to the kettle some brewers may opt to squeeze the hops and collect the extra wort in the kettle.


Fermentor Trub Loss: At the end of a successful fermentation yeast cells having run out of maltose to eat, eventually fall out of suspension and settle on the bottom of the fermentation vessel. This layer of debris is referred to as fermentor trub and its made up mostly of heavy fats, proteins and inactive yeast.

Trub Loss Produced During Fermentation

As an example, on bottling day you have 0.5 gallon of trub at the bottom of your fermentor and you want to package 5 gallons of beer. Enter 0.5 as the fermentor trub loss, to compensate for the 0.5 gallon of volume the trub will take up. You would then need to transfer 5.5 gallons of wort from the kettle to the fermentor to have enough fermented beer needed to package 5 gallons.


Length Of Boil: This is the length of time the wort will be boiled, here you simply enter the length of the wort boil in minutes. The length of the wort boil will vary between recipes, as a way to adjust bittering, or the isomerization of alpha acids of hop additions. The boil also creates the maillard reaction in the wort that darkens and adds flavors of toast and caramel that couldn't be added in any other way. Brewers may also vary the intensity of the boil, how vigorous the boil is, by controlling the amount of heat applied to the kettle.

The boil also halts enzyme activity in the wort to prevent any further conversion of dextrin into fermentable sugars. The heat and turbulence of the boil sanitizes the wort and promotes the formation of hot break which is made up of proteins and tannins, the foam and brown scum that collects on top of the wort. Many brewers add a fining agent to the boiling wort to help the break material coagulate and fall to the bottom of the kettle, or use whirl pooling as a way to clear their wort of  break material.

Evaporation Rate Of Wort During The Boil Depends On Several Things

Boil Off Rate: This is the volume of the wort that will be lost to evaporation as the wort is boiled. Simply enter the estimated amount of wort boiled off in gallons per hour. The wort volume in the kettle will be reduced at a rate depending on the shape and size of the kettle, the length of the boil and how vigorous the boil is. Referred to as the boil off rate this value may take you a few batches, in order to get the closest average boil off rate for your brewing system.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Brewing The Scottish Wee Heavy

The Scottish Wee Heavy is a smooth, rich, malty-sweet, high alcohol, medium to full bodied Ale that incorporates brewing processes that are unique to the style. Also listed in the BJCP Style Guidelines as Strong Scottish Ale it is referred to historically as a 90/ shilling ale, based on an early method used by Scottish brewers to rate beer according to its alcohol content. The 90/ shilling beers of the day were those having over 6.0% alcohol, today's BJCP guidelines expect the Wee Heavy to contain 6.5% to 10% alcohol in order to be within the style. With higher alcohol levels approaching those found in wine, the Wee Heavy benefits enormously from a long period of cold conditioning to smooth and round out it's flavor profile. 

Scottish Wee Heavy 1.082 OG Sample

When attempting to brew a beer that falls squarely within the guidelines of any individual style, I start off by learning all I can about the history of that beer. Obviously the Wee Heavy originated in Scotland, the geographic location being incorporated in the name is a dead giveaway to that. The first questions to answer before brewing a Scottish Ale are what would the water profile have been like, what types of grain were available to breweries in the region and which variety of hops were likely used. As for figuring out the brewing water profile it's no secret that the underground springs near Edinburgh Scotland provided the perfect soft water to produce the rich malty beers that have become synonymous with the area.
  
Golden Promise Malt, long recognized as the traditional grain used when making Scottish Ales and whiskey, is also a great choice to use in a grain bill for a Wee Heavy. Thought to be produced by selective breeding of UK 2 row barley, Golden Promise is an early spring barley that is well suited for the growing conditions of Scotland. As for determining the yeast strain used when fermenting Scotch Ales, to me the qualities are indistinguishable from the UK Whitbread strain as far as I can tell. The yeast should be fast fermenting and alcohol tolerant, producing little or no esters when the beer is fermented between 62F to 68F, while accentuating malt character. The yeast should also be a high floculent, medium to high attenuating strain that forms a tight compact sediment once fermentation has completed. Yeast with those qualities will be perfect for fermenting a high gravity beer and are well suited for the months of cold conditioning that follow.
  
Wee Heavy Original Gravity 1.082 And Final Gravity 1.017

According to some historical accounts the Wee Heavy was originally brewed with herbs and spices because Scottish hop production at the time was nearly nonexistent. As time passed hops were imported from England to replace the herbs and spices but they were used sparingly. This resulted in an ale that was rich malty, slightly sweet with an unmistakable warming produced by high levels of ethanol and propanol that developed with extended aging. The hops provided just enough bitterness to keep the beer from becoming excessively sweet and the beer was left to ferment cool enough to keep esters at a minimum while enhancing the rich malt flavors.

One unique characteristic when brewing the Wee Heavy is how malt caramelization is achieved in the kettle, through a long boil instead of the addition of Crystal malts. During a two to three hour boil the wort caramelizes, or darkens, as the sugar molecules change causing them reflect light differently. The extended boil time also increases the Malliard reaction in the wort to produce complex flavors that would not have time to develop any other way in a shorter boil. The color of the wort, the complex malt flavors and the medium to full body and mouthfeel of this beer is a combination of grain selection, wort boil, fermentation and long cold conditioning. I should mention patience too, this is one style of beer meant to be enjoyed a year or more after it's brewed, so plan on having an area dedicated to storing the bottled beer at 45F for quite a while.

When using mash temperatures in the 155F range in combination with soft pH 5.6 water a very chewy caramelized wort will be produced with the potential for easily creating a 9% or higher alcohol beer. With all great things comes great responsibility and care should be taken to ensure there are enough viable yeast cells, vital enough to convert a huge amount of sugars before going dormant. For a five gallon batch of beer a large yeast starter made with two vials of Whitbread strain yeast and four thousand milliliters of 1.040 starter wort should be sufficient to do the job.


Monster Pitch Of S-04 Yeast Ready To Go
Oxygenating the wort and using a large pitch of healthy yeast I also added a capsule of WhiteLabs Servomyces nutritional yeast supplement to the kettle to provide the yeast with the extra energy they would need. After cold crashing the starter for two days in the refrigerator it was easy to decant the starter wort off of the yeast cake prior to pitching it on brew day. Pitching a gallon of starter wort into a five gallon batch of beer is not the best way to ferment a great tasting high gravity beer. Diluting a five gallon batch of high gravity beer with a gallon of oxidized low gravity starter wort would be both counter intuitive and counter productive. 
 
The Whitbread strain has many qualities that make it a perfect choice for Bitters, Stouts, Porters, Brown and Scottish Ales and IPAs. It thrives in the 62F to 68F temperature range making short work of converting sugars while keeping ester production down. A medium attenuation strain with high flocculation and sedimentation properties that produces a clear, malty, sweet beer with little yeast flavor and perfect for long periods of cold conditioning. A trick to fermenting a high gravity beer is to make sure you pitch enough yeast to get a fast and furious fermentation going quickly and to get the most attenuation possible. Yeast  gets stressed out quickly in a high alcohol environment, pitching plenty of yeast reduces the amount of stress on the individual cells which in turn reduces the chance for off flavors to develop in the finished beer.       

Blowing The Lid Off - Use A Blow Off Tube
Don't be fooled at all into thinking that this yeast is a slouch in any way, it's one of the most aggressive strains I've worked with. When the following conditions have been met like adding yeast nutrient, oxygenating the wort, pitching plenty of vital viable cells and holding temperatures between 62F to 68F you can expect an explosive fermentation. Twelve hours into the fermentation I looked in the fermentation chamber to see the lid of the fermentor ready to blow right off and painting the insides of the chamber with fermenting beer! I was caught off guard thinking that having two bubbler air locks in the lid would be enough to vent off the Co2 produced by the fermentation. The krauzen in the fermentor rose so quickly that it clogged both airlocks with foam and the Co2 pressure nearly built up to the point of no return.

Half Gallon Jar With StarSan And Blow Off Tube
To relieve the pressure on the fermentor's lid I pushed the end of a 5/16" ID vinyl tubing over the airlock vent tube and routed the other end to the inside of a half gallon jar with StarSan in it. The larger diameter of the tubing allowed the foam to flow through it easily and eliminated any risk of having it clog up. With the blow off tube in place I was able to listen to the fermentation bubble, hiss and rumble like mad for the next three days as the yeast went to town on all that sugar. This batch fermented at a constant 67F from start to finish throughout the primary fermentation phase then raised to 70F as the final gravity dropped from 1.020 to 1.017. Although the perception of some diacetyl like flavors are acceptable in a Wee Heavy those flavors should not be produced by having diacetyl in the finished beer. This last one had me going there for a while, but raising the temperature near the end of fermentation is a good way to help the yeast clean up after themselves and remove excess diacetyl.

The recipe I used for the Wee Heavy consisted of just three grains. The base grain I chose to use was (90%) Pale Ale Malt, it was easier for me to order than Golden Promise Malt,
(8%) Melanoidin Malt and (3%) Roasted Barley Malt. The Roasted Barley Malt was used mainly to deepen the color of the beer and the Melanoidin Malt to increase the rich smooth maltiness of the beer without having to do a decoction mash. For hopping I added 4 ounces of East Kent Golding (UK) pellets to the kettle with 20 minutes remaining to the boil. I brewed this batch in a 15 gallon kettle and had no trouble at all fitting in all the grain and water needed for eBIAB mashing. I set the PID controller to 155F and mashed for 90 minutes stopping to give the mash a stir every fifteen minutes. I use single crushed grains and by stirring in between have been getting a little better than 70% efficiency everytime.

 The beer was bottle primed and has been carbonating at 68F for just over three weeks now, next week I'll refrigerate a bottle then open it to test out the carbonation. The carbonation level for such a high gravity beer is very low, the lowest carbonation level in any other style of beer I've brewed before. Even the high gravity Barley Wines I've brewed then conditioned for a year had higher carbonation levels than the Wee Heavy's .75 to 1.3 volumes. If I'm reading between the lines correctly the Wee Heavy is more like drinking a Scotch whiskey than a beer, especially when you start reading about the propanol that develops in the beer with long cold conditioning. Once the carbonation levels have proven out the beer will go into 45F cold storage for the next twelve months to condition in the bottle. Based on what I've read a Wee Heavy like this one can reach it's peak flavor in a year and can retain a great flavor profile for up to three years, before the beer's flavor starts to degrade.

Monday, November 17, 2014

First Look - BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit

The latest piece of brewing hardware to make it's way into my brewroom is the BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit, I've grown so attached to it already that I don't think I could ferment another batch of beer without one. At the heart of this precision two stage digital controller is the ubiquitous STC-1000 controller. The controllers can be found online just about everywhere these days and they usually range in price from $10.00 to $22.00. Technically known as a 1.7 Inch LCD Microcomputer Temperature Controller the venerable STC-1000 controller is available in 110 volt or 220 volt models and can come with several different firmware versions. The firmware is what ties the STC-1000's hardware devices together and determines which key functions the controller will support. The firmware version is responsible for the controller's menu navigation, the order that the settings are displayed to the user and if the controller supports Celsius or Fahrenheit. The default firmware that ships with the STC-1000 off the shelf comes with support for Celsius and basic temperature control. BrewsBySmith STC-1000+ controllers ship with the latest v1.06 firmware to deliver greatly increased precision and functionality over other off the shelf model controllers.

BrewsBySmith Controller
The BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit was shipped to my door using USPS Priority Mail 2 Day delivery and an hour after unpacking it had the STC-1000+ fermentation temperature set point configured and ready to go. The controller already had its firmware updated to v1.06 allowing me to be able to set up and read the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit which made my life a lot easier. STC-1000+ firmware supports separate adjustable delays and allowable temperature swings for both the heating and cooling outlets. It also has a tricolor LED that lights up red when the heat outlet is energized, blue when the cooling outlet is energized and the LED turns off when neither one is energized. For the serious brewer the STC-1000+ adds support for six individually programmed fermentation profiles each having ten set points for over the top control of the most complex fermentations.


Right out of the box the controller's heat outlet set point was set to 78F, so I lowered it to match my yeast's target fermentation temperature of 70F. Next I checked to see that the heat outlet's differential temperature was set to 1F to let the controller know it should energize the heat outlet whenever the temperature falls to 68.9F. The heat outlet's delay set point was already set to 5 minutes to prevent the heat outlet from cycling on and off too often.

The default set point for the cool outlet delay was set at 5 minutes and matched the heat outlet's set point. The cooling outlet's differential temperature set point was to set to 1F to let the controller know it should energize the cold outlet whenever the temperature rises to 71.1F. To control the temperature inside a refrigerator a 100 watt light bulb, or a 32 watt Fermwrap heating element, are plugged into the heat outlet of the controller and the then put inside the refrigerator. With the refrigerator 's power cord plugged into the cold outlet of the controller when temperatures fall too low the heat outlet will turn on as the cold outlet turns off.  

Paint Can Heater With 100 Watt Light Bulb

The average daily temperature where I live has been bouncing around between the low to mid 20's to upper 50's for the past few weeks and I've had no need to use the cool outlet at all to maintain a 70F set point. The controller turns on a 100 watt light bulb to power the paint can type heater sitting inside a foam lined fermentation chamber, when ever the temperature falls more than 1F below the 70F set point. The chamber is basically a finely crafted wooden cabinet, that I built myself, that's been insulated with three inch thick high density foam board top, bottom and sides. The chamber sits inside my brew room, in an unheated but insulated garage, that has been hovering between 55-60F all week. The 100 watt light bulb heater has output more than enough heat to maintain the perfect 70F temperature for the WLP-400 Belgian Witbier yeast and the foam insulation holds the heat in so well the heater hardly ever turns on.

Stopper, Thermowell, Probe And 100 Watt Clamp Light Heater

For the DIY'ers out there BrewsBySmith sells all of the parts needed to build and wire their complete Fermentation Kit. The STC-1000+ controller, stainless steel thermowell, temperature probe, fermwrap, rubber grommet, pre-machined case, outlets, power cord, 10 amp time delay fuse, optional tricolor LED and complete DIY instructions. Basically you get everything needed to build a complete Fermentation Kit except having to pay someone to assemble it for you. It's a great DIY project that will provide you with accurate temperature control over your fermentations when used with a freezer, refrigerator or to increase the functionality of a wooden fermentation chamber like the one I use. For the folks like me who would love to take on another project, but can't seem to find the time needed for building their own, BrewsBySmith sells the complete STC-1000+ Fermentation Kit delivered to your door already assembled, tested and ready to use.

The BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit Modernized My Fermentation Chamber
Although advertized as for use with carboys, by making a one inch round hole in the lid of a plastic Ale Pail I was able to use the grommet with a bubbler airlock and the thermowell to mount the temperature probe inside the fermentor. I also mounted the temperature probe from an outdoor digital thermometer, covered with a block of Styrofoam and taped to the outside wall of the Ale Pail to display the ambient temperature inside the fermentation chamber. At the height of fermentation there was an almost three degree difference between the wort's 70.5F internal temperature and the chamber's ambient air temperature of 68F.  Using the controller to monitor and maintain the actual wort temperature, instead of the chamber's ambient air temperature, provides the most accurate temperature control over fermention. You can find detailed part descriptions, current prices and available discounts on DIY parts and completely assembled STC-1000+ Fermentation Kits at the BrewsBySmith website. Don't forget to mention that Screwy sent you. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

November 2014 qBrew Update - Classic Homebrewer's Recipe Calculator

The qBrew application was originally written by David Johnson and was last updated on May 25th, 2008. The qBrew application is also available as an open source download from his original qBrew Site in case anyone is interested in expanding on the calculator's original functionality. Although the original .qbrewdata ingredient database file is installed with the application it only contains ingredients that were available to home brewers in 2008, since then many new ingredients have been made available including hop varieties, yeast types and fermentables.

qBrew Classic Homebrewer's Recipe Calculator

You can increase the usefulness of qBrew by clicking on the link below to get my November 2014 updated ingredient database for Windows, Linux and MAC right now. This updated ingredient database contains several brewing calculations, lots of new ingredients, hop varieties and yeast strains all combined in an easy to install database download. The classic qBrew application has been around for six years, has a very large user base and is accurate, reliable and easy to learn. Get started using the most up to date qBrew ingredient database with 10 favorite recipes today by clicking the link below. 


The Screwy Brewer: qBrew - Homebrewer's Recipe Calculator

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Ultimate Electric Brew In A Bag Brewday

As soon as we finished moving into our current home I started to plan the layout of a new brew room in a section of the garage. Before moving from our previous home my brew room was located in the basement and that’s where I spent several years brewing all grain recipes. I've always brewed indoors on an inexpensive kitchen gas stove because it was convenient no matter what the weather was like outside I could always brew beer when time permitted. I never had to worry about rain, snow or wind interfering with my plans, brewing indoors had some real advantages. A fan at one end of the basement pulled fresh makeup air inside while another fan exhausted boil vapors and harmful fumes out a window at other end. This arrangement made for some hot brewing days in summer and for some cold brewing days in the dead of winter, but for the most part it worked and kept me dry. I was limited to brewing five gallons batches on the gas stove even with the kettle straddled across two burners eight gallons of wort was about all the setup could handle. I managed to brew more often but even with a stepped up brewing schedule it was always a challenge to keep up with the demand for beer.

Electric Brewery Controller - Single Vessel

While waiting to get settled into the new place I had plenty of time to research the different types of electric brewing systems that were currently available. I had two main requirements for the new brew room it had to be electric powered and the brewing system had to be big enough to brew ten gallon batches. Before moving I found out that there was no possible way to run a natural gas line to the garage because of the way the house had been designed. I also wanted to increase the amount of beer brewed during each brew day too because it would let me build up and maintain a well stocked pipeline while potentially reducing the number of brew days per year. My favorite craft beers cost about $8.00 to $12.00 a six pack and using a little simple math proved that a 10 gallon batch of beer would easily fill 100 twelve ounce bottles which meant that for less than the cost of a few six packs I could produce sixteen six packs of the freshest high quality home brew available. Naturally I never add in any costs for the time I spend brewing because I love to brew so much even though I may not look forward to packaging that much beer in twelve ounce bottles. 

Dedicated Garage eBIAB Brew Room

The space I had to work with in the brewing area was a good size but it wasn’t going to be big enough for a three tier system like I had been brewing on. Knowing that the brewing area was a bit limited I started looking into the brew in a bag (BIAB) process. Using the BIAB process I could still brew my all grain recipes but without needing the extra room for a separate hot liquor tank, mash tun and boil kettle. I was happy to learn that with BIAB a single kettle takes the place of a hot liquor tank and a mash tun. Ultimately I decided on buying the High Gravity eBIAB Electric Brewing System because the prebuilt system shipped with a 4500 watt 220 volt heating element and a 62 quart kettle which would be perfect for ten gallon batches. It's an experimental brewing system run by a programmable EBC-SV controller that monitors the wort temperature as the wort is sprayed onto the top of the grain bed and can be used with 5500 watt heating elements with much larger kettles.
Two months after starting the brew room layout and placing the equipment orders with vendors everything was delivered, set in place, connected and ready to brew the first batch of beer.
 
High Gravity 15 Gallon eBIAB System

As it turned out making the move from natural gas to all electric brewing was one of the best things that could have happened but it did involve buying new equipment and learning a whole new way to brew beer. To get going I started reading about what other electric BIAB brewers had done to improve their brewing process and about their experiences both good and bad. Some brewers said the wort would be cloudy and others, including the manufacturer of the system I bought, said to only expect to get 60% efficiency rates. While other brewers wrote about getting near 80% efficiency rates when double crushing their grains and doing a 90 minute mash. Cloudy wort and low efficiency aren't things I'd be happy living with especially after investing so much in a eBIAB system. Of course there were a few other questions too like would the system be able to brew ten gallon batches, how to exhaust the boil vapors and what's better to cool the wort a plate chiller or a counter-flow chiller. It seemed like there were pros and cons to just about everything used to brew beer depending on who you asked, finally I just had to make up my own mind and go with what I knew would work best for me.

The First Recipe Used 22 Pounds Of Grains
The brewers over at the Beer Borg were able to provide me with a lot of great information about their own BIAB brewing techniques and experiences, they're a friendly bunch of people with years of brewing experience that they're always willing to share. I knew if I asked five different brewers how to do anything I'd get back at least six different answers but having access to so much solid brewing knowledge makes choosing the best options so much easier. For safety reasons I decided to hire an electrician to install a 4 wire 220 volt 30 amp GFIC breaker and run the line to a receptacle near the location of the EBC-SV brewery controller. The EBC-SV is the heart of the eBIAB system it runs the Chugger pump and regulates the output of the heating element based on feedback from the  temperature probe connected at the kettle lid. The EBC-SV was all setup and ready to go right out of the box all it needed was to be plugged into a 220 volt outlet in order to use it. I have to admit brewing on this system proved to be the most enjoyable brew day I've ever had. The EBC-SV provided automated temperature control and combined with the Chugger pump they eliminated a lot of manual work and the clean in place feature made cleanup a snap. 

Large Basket And Mesh Bag Made The Pound Dough In Easy

Having nothing more than eBIAB theory to go on for my first brew I started out with a recipe based on an estimated 70% efficiency, about halfway between my previous infusion mash efficiency and the manufacturer's suggested efficiency. The California Common (aka: Anchor Steam) style recipe I chose was a favorite of mine that I had brewed before. It's a fairly simple recipe using a mix of 10% Crystal and 90% Pale Ale malt and a few ounces of Northern Brewer hops. I had stopped in The Brewers Apprentice located in Freehold, NJ earlier in the week to introduce myself and to pick up a few vials of White Labs WLP810 - San Francisco Lager Yeast™ for the starters I planed to pitch on brewday. I met Jo-Ellen Ford the co-owner of the LHBS and early adopter of their now booming 'Brew On Premise' concept of brewing. Jo-Ellen and the staff really know homebrewing and do their best to make every brewer's brewday a great experience. I stopped by and picked up 22 pounds of freshly crushed grain early brew day morning and then with all the ingredients on hand I was ready to brew.

Recirculating Mash Spray Nozzle
To get started I processed 15 gallons of reverse osmosis water and stored it in a 64 quart water cooler that I had bought for mixing my brewing water. The RO filter I have produces almost 4 gallons of pure water an hour, there are larger capacity RO filters that can easily double the gallon per hour output, but for my everyday use the filter is sized perfectly. After the water cooler was filled I mixed in the salts and minerals and adjusted the pH to match the brewing water profile for the style of beer I was brewing. If you decide to create your own brewing water it's a good idea to prepare the water and make your adjustments the night before your planned brew day this way you can dedicate enough time to get the water profile just right and not feel rushed while doing it. Once the water adjustments were made and the water had enough time to stabilize I calibrated the pH meter again and took a final reading before adding the brewing water to the kettle. To prepare for the mash I heated 12 gallons of brewing water up to 160F (71C) then switched off the heating element and pump before mixing in the grain. After all the grains were added and stirred in another temperature reading showed the mash temperature had settled in at 150F (65C). I switched the on the Chugger pump and heating element and began  recirculating the mash at my 155F (68C) target temperature for 75 minutes.

The Key Ingredients Needed To Modify Brewing Water Properties
After mashing for 75 minutes it was time to hook the grain hoist to the grain basket handle and lift it out of the kettle high enough for the hot wort to drain out of the grains and back into the kettle. With the grain basket securely suspended above the kettle and the wort drained out of the grains I poured a few gallons of 168F (75.5C) sparge water into the grain basket to rinse as much sugar out of the grains and into the kettle as possible. With the kettle filled to the preboil volume and the grain basket taken away I turned on the heating element to begin the boil only to see that the temperature of the wort was dropping. I made a quick call to Dave Knott the owner of High Gravity in Tulsa OK to find out what the issue could be and hoping it would be easily resolved. Dave answered my call and said that even though it wasn't needed during the boil the temperature probe still had to be connected to the EBC-SV controller. The controller had to be able to sense that the temperature probe reading was lower than the 155F (68C) set point in order to energize the heating element. Earlier as the grains were draining I had disconnected the temperature probe from the controller in order to clean the kettle lid. Without getting an accurate temperature reading the controller never powered up the heating element, a not so obvious but important piece of information to know. Once I reconnected the temperature probe the element started to heat up the wort and in hardly no time had brought the wort to a boil.

Grain Basket Suspended Above Kettle While Wort Drains
With the grain basket removed and emptied and the exhaust hood moved back into position above the kettle the boil vapors were quickly vented outside as they rose from the kettle. The carbon filters in the exhaust hood helped to reduce any brewing aromas from the air before they were vented outside, the filtered exhaust air is more of a courtesy to any neighbors who may not enjoy the smells of brewing like I do, and the brew room was kept well ventilated and free from any buildup of moisture. An interesting thing to point out when brewing with an electric heating element is how the hop additions have to be made. I used nylon mesh bags that were long enough to soak in the boiling wort while being secured to the top rim of the kettle. The idea is to keep the hop sacks from moving around freely in the kettle during the boil, getting snagged in the heating element and causing any damage. The controller's manual adjustment knob allowed the heating element to be finely tuned to provide a nice rolling boil once the wort had reached a boil. When going from mash temperature to a boil cranking the adjustment knob up all the way brought the wort to a hard boil quickly. But to avoid a boil over and prevent too much volume boil off it was easy to dial back some of the heat using the manual adjustment knob. After a sixty minute boil the boil off rate was just about a gallon and a half leaving me with enough wort to fill two Ale Pails to their five gallon marks.

Clear Wort And Tight Compact Cold Break
The sixty two quart kettle easily handled the 22 pounds of grain needed for the ten gallon batch size of this recipe. I used a one and a half quart of brewing water per pound of grain mash thickness, which is inline with most of my previous single infusion mashes when using a mash tun. I calculated the mash thickness by multiplying 1.5 quarts of strike water per pound of grain as (1.5 * 22) = 33 quarts or 8.25 gallons. Then I calculated how much water the grain would absorb by multiplying the grain absorption rate as (0.13 * 22) = 2.86 gallons which gave a total water volume of (8.25 + 2.86) = 11.11 gallons of water. While mixing in the grains I saw there was still some room in the kettle so I added in another gallon of strike water for good measure increasing the mash thickness to just below 1.75 quarts per pound. I made a best 'guestimate' as to what the boil off rate and trub loss would be using the new kettle so to make sure there was enough wort to fill two five gallon fermenters I kept three gallons of sparge water handy for adjusting the preboil wort volume as needed.    

Induction Cook Top Heating Sparge Water

As the countdown timer for the boil ticked by signaling the next hop addition I kept myself busy by getting the wort chiller, lines, yeast flasks and fermentor buckets and hoses sanitized. By the time the boil was done the used grains had been drained of wort, even though they still must have weighed sixty pounds, so I dumped them into a bag and put the bag in the garbage can for disposal later in the week. The 760 cfm exhaust hood did a great job keeping the brew room air quality in good shape and the new brewing system worked out as good or better than I could have imagined it would. In a single day of brewing I became a huge fan of Chugger pumps too, using a pump to transfer wort was so much easier than doing it by hand. The only new process left for me to master at this point was using the convoluted counter-flow wort chiller. Moving up to ten gallon batches meant having to retire my trusted old immersion chiller, it simply didn't have the cooling capacity of the new counter-flow chiller design.    

Chilling The Wort As It Goes Into The Fermenters
Earlier in the week I made up two 2 liter yeast starters using a vial of WLP810 liquid yeast in each one. The recipe called for around five hundred billion cells of yeast for a ten gallon batch and I was going to split the batch up into two separate fermentors. I just happened to have a pair of two liter Erlenmeyer flasks and two stir plates handy so making up the starters was pretty straightforward. If a vial of WLP810 contained 100 billion cells when added to a two liter starter spun on a stirplate the end result cell count is estimated to be around 220 billion cells. So pitching a single starter into each of the two fermenters provides the recommended cell count for a good pitch of yeast. The WLP810 strain is a true Lager yeast although it's fermented at Ale like temperatures to develop the unique flavor profile that's synonymous with a modern day California Common style beer. Using Mr. Malty's yeast calculator and setting the yeast strain type to 'hybrid' calculated a cell count that was in between that of an Ale and a Lager so it seemed like a logical choice to make.


The Rise And Fall Of WLP810 Yeast Starters

To prepare the yeast for brew day I mixed in a cup of extra light dried malt extract for every two liters of filtered water. Using a large pot I poured in four liters of filtered water and two cups of DME and mixed it all together until there were no lumps of DME in the mixture. After boiling the wort for about fifteen minutes I put the pot in the sink filled with ice water and a small fountain pump to keep the cold water circulating around the pot. Once the wort cooled to 75F (21C) I added a vial of yeast to each sanitized Erlenmeyer flask and poured the cooled wort in until the level hit the two liter marks. After spraying tin foil with StarSan and loosely covering the the openings of each flask I set them each on a stirplate and let them spin for three days. At the end of the three days, after the yeast had time to absorb enough nutrients to allow them go dormant, I replaced the tin foil with sanitized plastic wrap and placed the flasks in the refrigerator to cold crash. On brew day morning I took them out of the refrigerator and let them warm up slowly to pitching temperature. Just before pitching each starter I decanted off the starter wort leaving only enough wort behind to swirl the yeast cake into suspension.

Clear Wort Sample Original Gravity On Target
It wasn't until the yeast was pitched and both fermentors were put inside the fermentation chamber that I realized I never added WhirlFloc or other fining agents to the kettle but the wort was still amazingly clear. I remember how clear the wort remaining in the kettle was and how tightly packed the trub pile was too after only a little whirlpooling. I can only think the adjustments I made to the brewing water were largely responsible for the wort's clarity because I'd had the same results when brewing on my gas fired system too. The three very different styles of beer I brewed earlier this year using distilled water and modified water properties all had improved color, clarity and very clean flavors and aroma. 

White Labs WLP810 - San Francisco Lager Yeast™
Both fermentors have been bubbling away at 65F (21C) releasing volumes of sulfur aromas that combine with the smell of wood from inside the fermentation chamber to create a smell that any brewer would find intoxicating. It'll be at least a week until I get to take a few hydrometer samples and taste how the young beer inside is coming along. Last Saturday was almost exactly a year to the day that I was able to brew beer at home in my own brew room and all I can say is it was the most amazing brew day I've ever had. All the time that went into planning the layout of the brew room paid off. Everything I had learned about all grain brewing was easily translated into brewing on an eBIAB system. Mash thickness, grain absorption, trub loss, conversion efficiency, water properties all the same calculations still applied when brewing in a bag as they did when brewing on a three vessel system. Needless to say encouraged by the huge success of my first brew day I can't wait to get in there again and brew up some stouts, wheats and IPAs.

Be As Passionate About Brewing As You Are About Beer  

Since building out my garage brew room the folks at GarageCabinets.com have taken an interest in my web site and included me in their list of '24 Great Blogs Homebrewers Should Follow' article. I highly recommend their website as a must read for anyone interested in improving the look and usability of their garage area. The GarageTalk article by Troy Greenberg is specifically targeted to homebrewers and is a great resource to keep handy for future reference. I've also agreed to submit a series of articles covering a wide range of brewing topics to HomeBrewTalk.com thanks to Austin McLendon taking an interest in my brewing experiences. Their new online 'Front Page' section has proven to be very popular with homebrewers and Austin has done a great job in providing content that's both interesting and informative. It's been a crazy busy summer for me with tons of stuff going on but I'm looking forward to kicking back and enjoying the Fall brewing season and brewing plenty of beer in the new brew room.