Sunday, July 31, 2016

Budget Brewing - Setting up an all grain, easy brewery for less than $1000.00

jarhill brew kettles
affordable alternative brew kettle
I'm sure this wont be the last time we have this discussion, but hopefully it will sink in this time.   I recently was at my LHBS.   I met a lovely couple who were getting into home brewing.   The wife told me that she was wanting to purchase a 10 gallon, 3 vessel,  heat exchange recirculating mash system for her husband.   Now at first blush... what an awesome wife.   How cool... right?  WRONG. Buy the equipment that makes great beer with out spending a fortune.

back yard pro
210k  btu burner
fast heating
rapid boil
You do not need that kind of gear to brew great beer.   I think she was shocked to hear me say that. After all fancy shiny gear is cool.   But here is the issue,  it is NO MORE efficient than basic gear, and it does not make better beer.

So once again here is my proposed set up for a home brewery capable of world domination.  This is a brew in a bag system with a pump that allows you to recirculate during step mashes, as a vorlauff, or during chilling.

The Jaded Hydra is well worth it's
price tag,  You don't skimp on heating
or on cooling.  Make the investment!
The system:   BIAB  System - Capable of 5 Gallon batches of beer with maximum ease.  This system is easily powerful enough to shorten your brew day.   We have a similar set up and have made a simple blonde ale in under 3 hours, at 82.5% efficiency.   The key to the system is that everything is designed for speed and ease.   The burner is super powerful.  Brew in a bag eliminates transfer time.  The bucket fermenters are easy to clean and sanitize.  You will thank me for recommending this wort chiller, it is miraculous, and can cool the entire batch at one time, something counter flow chillers and plate chillers can not do.  I have done the math, and a 2.5 hour batch is conceivable with this system.
  • Burner - Outdoor Pro Propane Burner - 210,000 BTU -        $67.00 +  $15.00 Shipping
  • Jarhill 49 quart (12.25 gallon) Brew Kettle -                      $109.00      Free Shipping
  • Brew Bag -  Wilser Brew Bag Grand Slam Package          $32.00 +    $5 Shipping
  • Large Stainless Steel Spoon                                             $3.89 +   Shipping
  • Pump - "Great brew eh" -   pump package #3                   $95.00 +  $18.00 Shipping
  • Large stainless steel strainer -  for decoction                    $10.00  + free with prime 
  • 5 gallon stainless pot -                                                    $33.00  +  $6.00 shipping
  • 1 gallon pitcher                                                                $6.00    Walmart
  • Home brewing starter kit - the other stuff you need            $69.00 +   Free shipping
  • Cleaners, and water chemicals                                        $30.00   your LHBS
  • Wort Chiller - Jaded Hydra - spend the money!                $149.00 + 8.00 shipping
  • Pump hard ware - for re-circulation and whirlpool -             $40.00 + $12.00 shipping

Great brew eh! Pumps! they are more than adequate!
That is it, that is all you need to start making amazing beer at home.   You do not need a 3 vessel, computer controlled, electric recirculating mash, heat exchange, multi pump, pain in the ass to clean system.  To make great beer, you need to LEARN TO MAKE GREAT BEER.  Not spend more money.   I know people with $20,000 wrapped up in home brewing.  Their systems, don't make their beer any better.  In fact, most of the time their beer isn't as good as the people I know who keep it simple and brew a lot.  The best home brew I have ever tasted was made with a very simple system. This system costs less than $600.00.  And with it you can make literally any style of beer.  

Basic fermentation chamber is a must have!
So above it says less than $1000.00, so what is the deal?   Now you are saying $600.00  Well, we are not quite done.   To make world dominating beer you also have to have to control the temperature of fermentation. To do that you need to have a fermentation chamber.   Our favorite fermentation chambers are old refrigerators from apartment complexes.   But you can also make a fine fermentation chamber from a mini fridge and some lumber for about $200.00.  (fridge included).  You will also need a temperature controller.   Which you can get for about $50.00.  

So right now we are at $850.00 invested.   So where does the other $149.50 come into play?   Well that money is available for options.    If you have a 12.25 gallon kettle, then you can in theory do 10 gallon batches.  If you are careful and use a defoamer.    So I recommend you just get a larger kettle and still do BIAB.  All of that costs you about $70.00  The other 79.50?  Well, it is nice to be able to aerate, and to clean and rinse bottles more efficiently.    It's nice to be able to make yeast starters, not necessary, but nice.   Also a corona mill is a nice addition.  I've used mine for 20 years with no ill effects.   But these things are options.  Not necessary.

So there it is.  A realistic approach to getting set up for all grain brewing for less than $1000.00.  Can you do it for cheaper.  Yes.  Can you do it better, I don't think so.  Not with any reasonable speed on brew day.  Not with any reasonable speed and effectiveness in cleaning and sanitation.  And those two factors, a slow brew day, and hard to clean equipment are the biggest frustrations in home brewing.  So remember that as you make your purchasing decisions.  Focus on things that make your brewing better, not on fancy shiny gear.

Having said this, there is no doubt that there is amazing brew gear out there that can improve your brew day experience.  There is no doubt that the major manufacturer's make some of the finest brewing equipment available.  If you have money to burn, go for it.  Get the best gear you can, but still remember, if it isn't easy to clean, it isn't worth buying.  If it makes your brew day longer, it isn't worth buying.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Back to Basics - Small batches to perfect your skills.

Ok, here's the deal.  I have preached and preached about common sense in home brewing.   I have shouted from the counter top.  I have ranted I have raved about not spending too much.  I have tried to show you all that you can make great beer with out spending thousands of dollars on a wort production machine.  So today.  I will be giving you some guidelines to follow and remember about home brewing.   Some hard and fast "rules" that can guide your home brewing career.

  • Small batch home brewing is the best way to brew often, and improve your skills
    • You can brew small batch in your kitchen. 
    • 1 to 3 gallons can easily be brewed in a 5 gallon pot with a paint strainer bag as your brew bag.  
    • You can easily "keg" These batches in "tap a draft" or in 5 liter kegs for a minimal investment.   
      • You can also use 1 or 2 liter soda bottles.  
  • There is nothing more important than cleaning and sanitation
    • If you bought something that is hard to clean... you screwed up
    • If you do not spend adequate time cleaning... you screwed up
  • Wort production is less important than fermentation
    • The best wort you can make will never be the very best beer if you can't control temperatures
    • If you cant control fermentation temperature then focus on Belgian style beers and forgiving yeast.  Fermentis US05, is a great choice. Danstar Nottingham is also a great choice.  For Belgian Ales try Fermentis Abbaye (BE 256), for Saison try Danstar Belle Saison
    • You can make a world class lager at 58-60 F.   But not at 72 F.  
      • Don't believe me?  try Fermentis 34/70 at 58 F in a 1.050 wort for 3 weeks.  Freaking amazing.  
  • You can make world class wort with a picnic cooler, a spoon, and a pitcher
    • There is nothing magical about a pump, or insulated stainless steel.
    • Heck you can make world class beer with brew in a bag on your stove top.  
  • Learn to be a wort whisperer
    • Taste your freaking wort.  Learn what it should taste like.   Learn how it should look.  
    • Taste your freaking grains.   Make sure they aren't stale.  Learn what they should taste like.   Consider adjusting the amounts based on the taste.
      • You can even make adjustments during the mash if you need to.
      • That is why our beer is so good,  we taste it during production.
  • Always remember your focus should be a delicious wort and healthy environment for your yeast.
    • Brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.
  • There is a reason certain hops are used with certain beers.
My hope is that we get back to excellence in beer making as a craft.  Now I say get back to because right now it seems like the focus is on finding a magical combination of ingredients.   As if what we do is potion making or alchemy.  The truth is the hobby we love is really more about learning. Learning proven processes and methods for producing excellent beer at home. Learning what quality ingredients should taste like.   My best advice is to focus on a couple of beer styles you love, and make them over and over until you can make them flawlessly and repeatedly.   You might consider smaller batches for this.   And brew a lot.  Every week, twice a week.  Yes you'll have more beer than you know what to do with.   Yes, bottling can be a pain.  But I'll let you in on a little secret.   I often "bottle" small batch in 1 liter bottles.   Why?  Why not?  They work fine and impart no flavor.  For my every day non competition beers.  It is so much faster and easier.  I also own loads of Mr. Beer plastic bottles.  They are also fantastic for home brew.

Another Couple of tips for fermentation.   Mini refrigerators are perfect for fermenting small batches. And the square tall frosting buckets from Walmart and Sam's club fit perfectly in a mini fridge.  All you need is a temperature controller and you are in great shape.  

So brew a lot, and brew small batch, work on your craft.  That is how you become great.   

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A brew day plan for Extract Excellence - Monk Mud

So in our last post we talked about trying to make competition level home brew with Extract.  We debunked some myths, and accepted some realities of home brewing with extract.  Today we will be going through all of the steps of making a Belgian Dark Strong Ale (Quad or Abbey ale or Monk Mud) with malt extract.   From set up and cleaning to pitching the yeast.   Our hope is that this brew day of extract excellence will show you where your extract brew days may be falling short.   Our goal is to produce an extract beer that is worthy of competition.

Before we start, you'll need the following. Experienced home brewers will already have most of the gear they need.
  • Two 5 gallon or larger pots. We'll be using the Cajun injector electric turkey fryer for our main kettle, and a 5 gallon pot for our other kettle.
  • A large muslin grain bag
  • Two smaller muslin hop bag
  • A 6.5 Gallon Fermenter - Do not think you can ferment this high OG beer in a 5 gallon carboy or bucket. 
    • If you do not have, and can not get a 6.5 Gallon Bucket, then you will need to assemble a blow off tube.  
      • 1/2"  tube will fit over the center post on 3 piece air locks
  • A colander large enough to cover one of the kettles.
  • Camden tablets
The Recipe -  Mankind's Monk Mud -
Belgian Dark Strong Ale inspired by Mankind's Monk Mud
5.5 Gallons
OG  1.078
FG   1.014
IBUs 23
SRM 17
ABV 8.4%

6.6 lbs of Pilsen Liquid Malt Extract
2.0 lbs of  Pilsner Malt - have your home brew store crush all grains for you 2x.
1.5 lbs of table sugar 
1.0 lbs of CaraMunch
0.5 lbs of Biscuit
0.4 lbs of Aromatic
0.3 lbs of Special B
0.2 lbs of Chocolate Malt
1.25 oz of Styrian Golding at 60 minutes - 5.25 AA% - 6.56 AAUs 
0/25 oz of Styrian Golding at 15 minutes - 5.25 AA% - 1.31 AAUs
0.25 oz of Hallertauer at 15 minutes - 4.2% AA% - 1.0625 AAUs
0.25 oz of Styrian Golding at 1 minute - 5.25 AA% - 1.31 AAUs
0.25 oz of Hallertauer at 1 minute - 4.2% AA% - 1.0625 AAUs
Yeast - Safale Abbaye, 15 grams (about a pack and a half)
Yeast Nutrient - Wyeast 1.5 tsp

The day before you brew collect 7 gallons of water and treat it with 1/2 of a Camden tablet. This will de-chlorinate the water. Stir it in and let it sit, uncovered overnight.  You may have heard that you can use tap water for extract brewing, but this is not really the case when seeking excellence. You can not use chlorinated water.  If your water is treated with Chloramine (and most are) the boil will not drive it off.  If you skip this step you'll need to go buy 6.5 gallons of filtered or distilled water. Both should be chlorine free.

On brew day before you begin brewing clean and organize everything you will be using.  Separate your hops and place them in separate containers (red solo cups work great) Label the containers with a dry erase marker.  Place your grains in the large muslin bag.  Collect 4 gallons of water in your main boil kettle.  Collect 3 Gallons of water in the other pot.  In the main boil kettle you should add 1.5 tsp of Five star 5.2 stabilizer, stir and begin raising to 161 F.   Pot two you should begin slowly raising to 190 F.   When pot 1 reaches 161 F, Turn off the heat and place the grains into the pot.   Let it sit for 60 minutes. Poke at it and stir it around every 15 minutes. When pot two reaches 190 F Turn off the heat and add the malt extract, stir it around to keep it from caramelizing on the bottom of the pot.  The only fermentables you haven't added yet are the sugar and the raisins.  You will add those in the last 10 minutes of the boil.

After 60 minutes remove the grains (and the bag) from the main kettle.   Place on a colander or rack above the kettle and let the grains drain.  Add the extract and water combination to the main boil kettle and bring to a boil.  Add Hops as directed by recipe.  Add yeast nutrient with 10 minutes to go.

When the wort (or mout to be technically correct) is done boiling.  Chill rapidly.  You must have a wort chiller of some kind for this.   We are looking to get the beer out of the temperature range where DMS can be created, and down to yeast pitch temperatures as quickly as possible.  We will be using our Jaded Hydra Chiller for this.

After chilling the beer.  Transfer to your fermentation vessel.  Aerate well, and pitch your yeast.  We prefer large plastic or glass fermenters.  The key is that it is large enough to handle the fermentation. This beer will blow off in a 5.5 PET container.   So if that is how you ferment, please a fix a blow off tube.

This beer can and should be fermented around 68 F.  We will be putting it in the basement and letting it ride.  We will accept whatever temperatures the basement produces.   We want some of the phenolic and estery flavors from the belgian yeast, so the temperature swings from the basement will help produce.

This is one of my all time favorite beers.   I know if you try it you'll enjoy it to.  I actually prefer this to my all grain version of the same beer.   I think the residual sweetness from the malt extract combined, with the stress that the yeast is under trying to ferment a wort that has a portion of unfermentable sugars, combine to make a nearly perfect monk mud.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Extract Excellence - Make Great Beer with Malt Extract

Almost all homebrewers started this way;  A couple of cans of malt extract, some specialty grains we didn't really understand, a package of dry yeast, a kettle, a plastic fermenter and a dream that we could make great beer at home.  And for most of us the results were encouraging enough that we stayed in the hobby. We learned, we grew, and eventually we started making truly excellent beer.  And along the way we read, or heard someone say..."you can make award winning beer with extract"   Come on, you're no different.  You know you've heard the claim.   "this guy in my club, knows a guy who uses extract and he won the NHCs, and the World Beer Cup, and he opened a microbrewery that only uses extract, and he cured cancer and gout with his extract IPA..." But when you start researching, it is damned near impossible to find an extract recipe that has actually won a major award.

The book Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels is a great resource.  A great way to learn to start thinking about designing recipes.  In the book Daniels goes through many of the great styles that home brewers have success with.  In each style Daniels mentions at least a couple of extract recipes that qualified for the second round.   His research is exhaustive, so we can all trust with some certainty, that people can, and do qualify and win awards with extract beers.

We built on, and took the research even further.   Reviewing every winning recipe from 2010 to 1014, and what we found was that 10 Extract recipes won NHC gold medals.  Further, all of the award winning recipes were in categories that have SRMs over 11.   Only 2 of the recipes were recipes that you would consider extract with specialty grains, the other 8 were recipes that must be considered partial mash. (It is important to note that many, many partial mash recipes also qualified for the second round furthering my contention that Partial Mash is the way to brew beer at home for consistent excellence). The majority of extract beers that won NHC awards were very yeast centric (Belgian/Sour), or fruit flavored.  Only one lager (a dark American) won an NHC gold medal.

So it can be done.  You can actually make an extract batch of beer that can win a major contest with extract.  A truly excellent beer.  A beer you can be proud of, and proudly serve to any one. But to do this, first you have to debunk some myths, and accept some realities.

Debunking Myths:  There are so many myths about extract that they cannot all be explained in depth in this post. So rather than writing a paragraph on each, and for the purpose of this blog, they are simply listed and stated as fact.  Whether or not they are fact is a matter of debate.
  1. "Extract is twangy or metalic tasting." - No it just isn't.  It hasn't been for a very long time.  There was a time, way back when I started brewing when this was kinda true.   The extracts were packaged in metal cans that were not lined. not fresh, and when the technology of creating extract also created some of that taste. Certain sugars were created in the creation of the extract, that didn't ferment well and left a twangy taste.  But that hasn't been the case for a long time. 
  2. "Extract is more fermentable" - That isn't actually true.  in fact, it may be less because of dexterines in the extract.   Every extract is different, and you should check the sheet associated with that extract. Higher PPG does not automatically equal a more ferment-able wort
  3. Extract tastes like caramel - wrong, extract tastes like wort
  4. Extract leaves beer sweet - wrong, well kinda wrong. Some of the sugars created in the process of making extract are unfermentable, or harder for the yeast to ferment.
  5. Extract beers can be identified as different than all grain -  kinda true, unless you do everything correctly and use some grain in your recipe.  An extract batch will taste different than an all grain batch.   But a partial mash batch will save you money and time and is nearly indistinguishable from all grain.   
Realities of extract brewing;  Like the myths, there are just too many realities to go into full detail in one blog.  The most important thing to know is that if you follow great practice, you can make great beer with extract.
  1. More expensive ingredients, more affordable equipment. 
  2. Way faster
  3. Darker in Color - use recipes that feature this as an advantage.
  4. Different techniques for excellence: Techniques like
    1. Late Extract extraction - Adding the extract in the last 10 minutes
    2. Flame of / Kettle off for additions - or dissolve the extract separately and add back in to wort.
  5. Absolutely critical that you follow good practices, 
    1. Full volume boil
    2. Quick chill
    3. Water adjustment for flavor
    4. Aeration
    5. Proper yeast pitch
    6. Controlled fermentation temperature
  6. You must learn to do at least a simple mash - we'll explain more in a separate post.  
    1. For those of you who do not currently mash grains, you will have to learn how.  
    2. If you can make oatmeal with out supervision, you can handle this.  
  7. Best with beers that feature
    1. Fruit flavors
    2. Belgian Influenced
      1. Yeast flavors
      2. Spice Flavors
    3. Sour beers
    4. Darker beers - Stout, Scottish Ale, Brown Ale
So how does a home brewer apply what we have learned here to make a great extract at home?  Well,
if you are a new brewer, you have to accept certain things. First off, you must boil full volume and you must chill quickly.  If you do not have the ability to boil 6.5  gallons of wort, you can do one of two things.  You can reduce your batch size (our preferred) or you can split your boil into two kettles. This is called the Texas two step.  It is really straight forward, you simply split your wort into two 3.25 gallon batches. Second, you must learn to do at least a simple 30- 45 minute mash in a bag. There is just no way around it.  Only two recipes out of over 10,000 entered were purely extract. You have to use some specialty grains, and you have to get some all grain flavor.  Third, even though this is extract you still have to respect the beer and the ingredients.  You have to use chlorine free water, you have to aerate, you have to make water adjustments for flavor, you have to pitch the correct amount of yeast, and you have to ferment at the right temperatures.  Fourth and finally you have to accept that extract is going to be darker in color than all grain.  That is fine, you can make a darker beer.   But remember there are methods you can use to reduce the darkening of the wort, even with extract.

In this series we will be making three batches of extract beer.  We will make a time tested Belgian Dark Strong Ale that I have been making for years, we will be making a Grapefruit IPA/APA, and we will be making a Flanders Red. (Which will be split into separate fermenters to compare sour blends) We will reduce the Flanders to 3.5 Gallons.  We'll be making these batches in the electric turkey fryer. We'll be chilling with the Jaded Hydra.  We'll be aerating by pouring the wort back and forth between buckets.  And we'll be controlling fermentation temperature with a fermentation chamber.  These are all techniques that any home brewer must use to create excellence with extract.

The goal of this is to show you that even if you are limited on your equipment.  Even if you just prefer making extract beer, you can take the steps necessary to make a great beer at home.  This should be fun.  And if you're already an all grain brewer, it should show you that you can make more beer at home by mixing in some extract batches.

What you'll need for Extract Excellence
  • A way to boil 6.5 gallons of wort.  
    • A turkey fryer with a 7.5 gallon aluminum pot will work fine
    • Two 5 gallon pots
  • A large Laundry Tub - large enough to hold your fermenter for controlling temperatures
  • Some large muslin bags - for the steep/mini mash
  • A scale capable of measuring ounces and grams
  • Your regular brewing gear
That is it. That is all you need to make excellent extract beer at home.   You don't need a massive 3 vessel system.  You don't need the ability to perform complicated step mashes.  You don't need to have a big fermentation chamber. (although they are nice).  All of this gear costs less than $300.00.  So yes, you can make great beer at home with extract and, you can get set up for less than $300.00.