Monday, April 11, 2016

Brewing on your counter - You don't need to spend much to make great beer!

As you all know, I struggle to find a balance between my desire for the shiny, flashy, fancy brewing gear I see on the inter webs, and my knowledge that this gear is for the most part, completely unnecessary.   Cool, but unnecessary. After all, I have more brew gear, accumulated over years  of brewing than most home brewers.   When we brew as a group, we use this gear; my keggel, a 100 quart mash tun, my 210,000 BTU banjo burner.  So, we can make some seriously big batches of beer. But, when I brew on my own, what should I use?  So the other night, as a way to fight off boredom and pressing reality, I found myself again looking at cool systems on the web.  Recirculating mash machines, eherms, and rims systems.  I read all about them, and then I found this little disclaimer on one of the websites,  "by adding a sparge rinse many brewers report efficiency of almost 80%"

Excuse me?  80%?  I can do 80% in my sleep with my good ol cajun injector electric turkey fryer.  I thought these things were more efficient.  Turns out they are not.   That is when it hit me, why in the world would you spend money on something that is less efficient and makes beer that is the same or lesser quality?   The only possible explanation is that theses systems are really cool.  And they are cool.  I'll be one to admit they are far out freaky cool neato. Wort is moving around, that seems like a good thing.  Pumps are pumping, that seems more advanced some how.   But at the end of the day they are no better at making beer than a $100 electric turkey fryer.   They are faster, but are they $800 faster?  Again, no.  my cajun injector has a 1650 watt heating element.  I can add a 1300 watt element for under $20, in the form of a bucket heater.  So if I really get worried about how long it takes to come to a boil, I just put in the bucket heater.   Which means, I go from mash out to full boil in under 30 minutes.  Since my kettle is now insulated with foam, I seem to get there in about 17-20 minutes.  I have done the math.  I know it should take 25.4 minutes based on kWs and BTUs but I'm telling you it seems to be about 18 minutes.

So, for me, I will choose my good ol Cajun Injector electric turkey fryer.  And I strongly suggest the rest of you who have not spent big money on a brewing system yet, also consider the same. I am not a spokesperson for Cajun Injector, they aren't even a sponsor.   I just like it. With the Cajun Injector you can do full volume extract, 5 gallon, partial mash 5 gallon, and all grain BIAB 5 gallon up to about 1.060 OG.  Above that you'll have to do a partial mash.

When you are making small batch the Cajun injector handles them easily.   When you are making 5 gallon batches you have to boil with the lid on but a jar.   I have done this literally hundreds of times, and I have never had an issue with DMS.   DMS has more to do with the modification of the grains than anything else. As long as you boil hard, chill fast, and make sure your wort can vent, there is little risk of DMS.

So here is my process for all grain biab in the Cajun injector.
  1. I grind my grains fine.  This is the key to excellent efficiency.   My mill is set to the thickness of a credit card.  No, I do not get astringency,  yes I do get some flour.   I don't care what you have read, or what you wish was true.  The finer the grind, the better the efficiency.   Physics is physics.  More surface area equals more enzyme and starch interaction.  
  2. I put the basket in, and then the bag.  The bag is big enough to go over the edges of the kettle.  I can hold 11lbs of grain. I think maybe I could get 12 lbs.  But 11 lbs is enough for a 1.055 to 1.060 beer.  
  3. I use as much water as I need to create a reasonably thin mash. Somewhere between 3.5 and 4.5 gallons of water.   The rest of the water is used for infusion step mashing, or for sparge rinsing.  I almost always step mash or decoct.  It simply tastes better.  The exception is a simple blonde ale for which I use my "set it and forget it process". Ill be posting about this process soon.  
    1. Example  Champagne Lager 7.6 lbs of Pilsner, .9 lbs of flaked rice
      1. 3.62 gallons of water at 139.7 (140 F) rest at 132 F for 15 minutes
      2. Add 3.5 quarts of boiling water to raise mash temperature to 146 F rest for 30 minutes.
      3. Add 3.6 quarts of boiling water to raise mash temperature to 156 F rest for 20 minutes.
      4. Add 6.2 quarts of boiling water to raise mash temperature to 168 F rest for 10 minutes.
    2. Total water used in step mash is 6.92 gallons,  Which leaves 1 gallon for sparge rinse
    3. I sometimes just use 8 to 9 lbs of grain and just add DME to get a higher gravity.  
    4. I also like to do decoction in order to reach mash out.  So sometimes I skip the mash out water addition and pull a thick decoction. Right after the 2nd infusion.  
      1. Yes, I am a nerd who enjoys decoction. 
      2. For higher grain amounts there may not be enough water for sparge and mash out.  When that is the case I definitely decoct to get to mash out. 
  4. I drain the bag on a rack set over the kettle.  Then I vorlauff,  yes I vorlauff.  I drain a gallon or two and pour it through the grains.  Not sure if I have to, but the beer sure is clear.  Then I sparge with remaining water to volume.
  5. From here on out it is just like any other batch of beer.  Boil and make hop additions.   The one difference is that I leave the lid on during the boil, but a jar by about 2".  See the video above. 
Many of you have asked about the Cajun Injector Electric Turkey Fryer.  So there it is,  that is how I have been brewing on my own, and that is how I suggest any of you brew who don't want to spend big money on brewing, and who want to brew inside.  But the real point is you can use affordable gear.  You can follow processes that are proven, and fun for you.  And since my life is changing,  I will be brewing lots of small batches.  2.25 to 3.5 gallons.    And the Cajun injector rips through a small batch no problem.  In fact, when I do small batch I tend to just to no sparge full volume BIAB and use the element to step mash.

I am here by promising a full on illustrated step by step brew day with this system.  A 5 gallon batch of an ultra malty, German Festbier, with videos.  Soon the counterbrew YouTube channel will launch. So you can watch our geekery in all of its video recorded glory.  You can also expect more posts from counterbrew contributors.  Mark will be spending time in Brazil and reporting on the growing craft beer scene.  John is going to write about cloning great beers, and using the internet and brew tools to perform due diligence on a recipe.  Jake will be writing about the financial side of home brew, and examining whether it is a cost savings or a money pit.

That is all for now sports fans.  Wishing you peach and good beer.


  1. This seems to be the perfect solution for anyone who has limited space, limited funds, or likes to brew year round and lives in a cold winter climate. I fit under all three of those so this is a great option.

  2. thanks John. It works really well.