Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The easy method...Countertop 3 Vessel...

Everything you need to make great small batches of beer!
Ok, today I roll out what I have been doing for sometime now. My super easy counter top 3 vessel brewing method.  This astonishing development in home brew, this amazing technique is... well OK it isn't exactly new.  In fact, it has been around forever and  is about as easy and traditional as home brewing gets.  As I get older... an unavoidable fact of life... I find my desire to make huge batches of the same beer waning.  Sure, we still brew 10 to 15 gallons as a team, but when I brew on my own I tend to brew 2.5 gallon stove top batches.  After SWMBO and I split up, I moved into a tiny apartment. (literally the same size as our master suite)  That was part of the motivation to make more small batch.  Not surprisingly the quality (which was already good after 27 years of brewing) has reached a very high level.  So much so that I'm considering returning to competition.

This hobby can get out of hand,  you owe it to
yourself and your friends to stay responsible.
It's the best way to promote and protect home brewing.
For me small batch just makes sense, I mean what the heck do I need 4 cases of Belgian Strong Ale for?  No one needs that much beer on a regular basis...if you disagree, I think you need to think about how much beer you are consuming.  I know what you'll argue... "I have lot's of friends I give lots of beer away..." sure so do I.   I still make 5 - 10 gallons every month.   I just don't make 20 to 40 gallons any more. We never talk about the dark side of our hobby, forgive me for a moment, it's going to get a little dark, but every now and then I have to bring us back to reality.  Guys seem to want to make bigger and bigger batches at home...I know a guy who can do 3 Bbls  In his garage... why?   what the heck does anyone need to make 93 gallons of beer for?  I've also know many guys over the years who could not handle this hobby.  This year alone I know of a couple of guys who were turning into full blown alcoholics... they both had to quit brewing to get their lives in order.   So, yes I am clear... no one needs to make 93 gallons of beer at home every weekend or even every other weekend.

So for me,  I tend to brew 2.5 gallons on the stove top.  Up close and personal with my wort and my boil... it has been awesome.  I also find that I am brewing about 6 recipes over and over again.   Risen Pale Ale, Centennial Blonde Ale, Centennial IPA (Bells two hearted), Cream Ale, Raspberry Wheat, and Chocolate Milk Stout.   Every now and then I let the yeast cake inspire me to brew something else... I actually use lager yeast for my cream ale, so occasionally the yeast gets reused for a Schwartz Bier...or a Honey Bock.   Every now and then the stout yeast becomes a honey brown...But mostly when I brew on my own, I brew stuff that anyone would enjoy.  That lets me brew almost every weekend.  Certainly every other weekend.  The beer I make is approachable for beer muggles.  It is easy to give away (with one rule, "bring me back rinsed bottles").

Like everyone else I have been caught up in the Brew in a Bag phenomenon.  And like everyone else I recognize its ease and accessibility.  It is a great method.  I think it, along with partial mash (which I will never stop defending) is a fantastic method for making beer.  BIAB is probably the best way for a newb to start doing all grain brewing.

Brew bag as a filter!
But I am not a newb.   I am currently 28 years and over 800 batches into this hobby.  I am an experienced... aging, curmudgeony brewer.   And well, to be honest... I like 3 vessel brewing.   I enjoy it.   I like step mashing, I like batch sparging, heck I even like vorlauffing.  With my counter top system I can control my wort exactly how I want, and I can do the things I enjoy.  And isn't that what brewing is all about.  Having fun and making the best beer that you can make?

So here is my current set up.   You will notice I have eliminated anything that is hard to clean,  I have minimized valves, there are no thru wall
thermometers, no sight glass,  no pumps, and no re-circulation ports.   If I need the wort to whirlpool or to move, I get out my spoon and stir it.  As I have said before although spoons are a new technology, I am confident they will catch on. 
  • 5 gallon round cooler mash tun
    • Brewers Best Mesh Mash Bag filter
    • 3/8" Ball Valve
    • Floating mash thermometer
    • Long probe digital thermometer.
  • 5.5 gallon stainless steel kettle
  • 4 gallon stainless steel HLT
That's it.   Less than $200.00 worth of equipment for a lifetime of brewing fun.   And with my set up I can make 2.5 to 5 gallon batches of beer.  I still own larger pots.  I still  own a ridiculous propane burner, (12" 231K BTU), I still can do large batches,  but for the most part this is what I use to brew.

Now... the big question... my process.   Most of the recipes I brew are medium original gravity beers.  I rarely brew anything over 1.070.   So I adjust the mash water calculations so that my sparge is around 1.25 to 2 gallons.  I batch sparge.   I always do a mash out step, always.  I often do a 3 step mash (146 F, 156 F, 168 F) This is the practice for beers I want to have attenuate very dry.   I know what you're thinking... the self appointed step mash champion doesn't always do a 4 step mash or decoction?  well no, no I don't.   After 27 years of brewing, I know when to do a complicated step mash, and when not to do a complicated step mash.   The truth is I use mostly Cargill base malts and grains and the quality is so high, I just don't always need to do a step mash.    Here is an example of a mash for my american pale ale... Risen...  which is just a good ol fashioned early 1990s all cascade pale ale (Think New Albion).  NOTE: I always use reverse osmosis water, and I always make adjustments.  I have been using the Brewersfriend water program, but I also like EZ water, and BruNWater.  I shoot for 5.2 pH, and a balanced profile.

5lbs of grain
Strike 2.5 gallons of water at 162 F (72.2 C 9.5 L) stabilize at 154 F.
Mash out - Infusion of 3.5 quarts (3.2 liters) of water at 211 F (100 C)
Sparge with 5.75 quarts (5.44 liters)  of water at 170 F (76.6 C)

Do you know how fast you can heat 2.5 gallons to 162 F (72.2 C 9.5 L)?  Even my crappy stove can do it in less than 20 minutes.  It is so much faster to brew this way.  And you are up close and personal with your brew.   It's right there in front of you.  On the stove top, on the counter top.  You can smell it, you can taste it.   I still take all of the same measurements as before.  pH, temperature, gravity, and taste impressions.  I still write everything down in my brewing journal.  But somehow, I have more control, I'm able to correct things.  I always use fresh never opened hops.   I always calculate the hops with the correct AA% and adjust my additions.   One thing you will need if you are doing a lot of small batch is a gram scale ($6 - $14) at Wal-Mart.   Grams are just far more accurate than ounces or tenths of an ounce.   

With a minor modification
two 3 gallon carboys will
fit in a mini fridge.
My mini fridge died.  So I need to get a new one for my fermentation chamber.   I prefer to ferment in Glass.  Two of the common 3 gallon glass carboys will fit into a mini fridge with very little modification.   Right now, it is early winter, and the space beneath my big window is stable at 63 F.  I kinda got lucky on that one... So that's where I am fermenting.   But soon I will get a new mini fridge and do a post on how I modify it for fermenting.  It is really easy to do.

For now I am bottling, force carbonating in two liters, and using 2.5 gallon cubes.  Alas, my keezer is in storage.  I just don't have room in the apartment.  As we head toward contest season I will have to go ahead and make a mini keezer so that I can bottle from the keg.   But I am loving small batch so much I may sell my old one and switch to 2.5 - 3 gallon kegs exclusively.

So that is what I am doing.   I have a strong desire to make more crystal clear perfectly fermented beers.  I think I am kinda over the murky IPA thing.   I appreciate them, and they are delicious.  But for me... I prefer to be able to read through my beers...   I guess time will tell if this approach is as excellent as I suspect it might be.   It's certainly faster, it's certainly more engaged.   And I am still having a blast brewing beer.  Cheers.