25 November, 2008

Quickie: Do they blend?

I am drinking a blend of half Costa Rican, half Yemeni beans roasted to full city. This blend has the deep notes I like from the Yemeni, but lacks the smooth Costa Rican flavors. Not sure if the South American bean is the right complement to the Arabian bean. Next I will try an even split between the Javanese and Yemeni beans.

The people at Sweet Maria's are right about Yemeni beans — they really take 48 hours to rest after roasting. Yesterday, the first day after roasting, this blend was not nearly as full.

22 November, 2008

Kegged Evil Brown

On ITAFtHD I made a brown ale from AHS. Readers will know that I really messed that one up using RO water. I came out with 15 gallons when I expected only 10 - meaning that the beers were weak. Beer #2 was a slow starter, taking two days and some krasuen from beer #1 to get going. I kegged the beers today.

Number 2 was totally spoiled. Might get it through my head now to slow down the rate at which I pass the beer through the CFC. I suspect I pitched my starter into hot wort, killing the yeast. In the end, I came out with the same volume I was expecting (10 gallons) but the wrong strength. Evil Brown #1 ought to be ready for Thanksgiving when we have company over to celebrate.

Final Gravity: 5% brix.

I also ran out of the totally delicious Rye of the Hurricane today. Gonna make that one again. The beer came out with a great dry earthy bitterness from the rye malt and Mt Hood hops. It needed a little more body so I think I will increase the ratio of Munich to pale malts.

15 November, 2008

Bifurcated Blog Content — Coffee

It is about time I start recording my coffee roasting experience. Instead of creating another blog will use this space for that purpose.

I started roasting in January of '08, almost a year ago, thanks to my in-laws. They gave me an i-Roast (mark 1) for Christmas and some green beans. In a later post I will do a review of the machine. It serves its purpose pretty well in the hands of a noob.

One bean, Costa Rican La Alianza from 7 Bridges, will likely become a staple. At city roast it has a smooth medium bitterness with just a little unsweetened chocolate flavor.

I am now experimenting with Java Kajumas Curah Tatal and Yemen Mokah Mattari, both from Sweet Maria's. I over-roasted the Javanese bean the first time, but the Yemeni bean was right on at city roast. It possesses a woody aroma and subdued bitterness.

I have about 3 pounds of new beans (and 5 pounds of the Costa Rican) to work my way through. I think I will end up in an African bean, then try my hand at blending.

01 November, 2008

International Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day

Today is International Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day so I had a few friends over and made beer. Some of them knew how to brew, some of them did not, and one of the latter is gonna give it a try. I ended up making about 15 gallons of beer in two batches. Allow me to elaborate.

I bought ingredients for 10 gallons of AHS Evil Brown ale and everything was set to go at 10 o'clock this morning. There was one flaw in my plan, you see at the last club meeting we discussed Bryan/College Station water quality. It turns out that our water is simply awful for brewing - there's too much sodium and hardness. With this in mind I went down to Jacob's Well and got 20 gallons of reverse osmosis filtered water.

I know better than to brew with only RO water, and thought I had some Burton salts in my box of homebrew supplies. I did not. Nor did I use any tap water in my mash like I should have. My efficiency suffered severely because of this and I extracted 10 gallons of 1.022 wort where I should have seen 1.050-ish.

The remaining grains were still sweet so some of the other homebrews convinced me to do another batch. This time I added about a gallon of tap water to 5 gallons of RO. The mash went through starch conversion in about 15 minutes and I mashed for a total of 40. The resulting wort came out around 1.031 SG. I tossed some left-over Magnum and Goldings hops in the boil and split my yeast starter between the two fermenters. They are in the duck-in cooler right now.

So it took me two mashes and 15 gallons to get all the sugar out of my grains, but I like low-alcohol session beers. I'm curious to tast the brews.

The recipe:


  • 18 lbs 2-row
  • 1 lbs Crystal 60
  • 0.5 lbs Chocolate Malt
  • 2 oz 7.6% AA Brewer's Gold 60 mins
  • 1 oz 4.2% AA Goldings 15 mins
White Labs 005 English Ale yeast

Batch two used
  • 0.5 oz 14% AA German Magnum hops for 90 minutes
  • 1 oz 4.2% AA Goldings for 15 mins
I had those nagging cooling problems. Next time I will run my pump at a slower speed.

It was a great day. I even found the time to grill two racks of spare ribs and Adrienne made mozzarella. Other folks brought home and commercial brew meaning everyone was well fed and well drunk.

14 September, 2008

Rye of the Hurricane

Yesterday the eye of hurricane Ike passed 85 kilometers westward of my house in Bryan, TX. It caused no damage to speak of here. Our neighbors lost a tree, but after Adrienne and I helped him cut it down we waited out the storm with some spicy barley soup and laptops. We did not lose power or water like Galveston and wish a speedy recovery to them.

Today was brew-day. I had a crisp rye ale lined up from Austin Homebrew Supply and a starter of Wyeast 1968 ready to go. AHS advertised this recipe being similar to Real Ale's Full Moon Pale Rye, which I like. Bear Republic makes a great rye IPA and I would like to explore brewing with rye malt.

Had a few friends over to help share some (commercial) beer. The brew went by in a typical way. My efficiency is often quite low (50% today) so I topped off the recipe with a kilogram of dry malt extract. I got about 45 liters out of it which indicates that I sparge too much. OG was 12.8% brix with 41-ish IBUs. The recipe:


  • 7.75 kg Pale malt
  • 2.0 kg Rye Malt
  • 1.0 kg Light Dry Malt Extract
  • 0.5 kg Munich Malt

  • 110 g 5.3% AA Mt Hood (60 mins)
  • 55 g 1.5 % AA (!) Hallertauer (5 mins)

Wyeast 1968 London ESB Ale yeast.

Mashed 2.5 liters of water per kg at 65° C for 60 minutes. Sparged with 37 liters water to collect 51 liters of sweet wort. Measured the gravity to be 7.8% Brix.

I boiled for 30 minutes before adding the Mt Hood trying to get my volume down and gravity up. The wort has a nice sweetness to it, but I do not taste much rye. Chilling the wort is still a problem as I can only get down to about 32° C. When I put together a stand for my equipment I will make space for a pre-chiller. However, the brew is now fermenting in the duck-in cooler I made.

07 August, 2008

Duck-in Cooler Update

Hello loyal readers (and others),

I started the duck-in fermentation cooler project with the goal of keeping my homebrew at a temperature appropriate for fermenting. It is mostly finished now and stands in the brew-room of my new house undergoing light testing.

On the left is my 15-gallon fermenter with about 12 gallons of tap water and a thermometer probe. To see how long this contraption takes to get to temperature I started running the AC at about ten in the morning yesterday. Here is what the thermometer said:

Top is ambient temperature and bottom is the water. Yep, it comes out of the tap that warm, which makes for problematic wort chilling. After 8 hours the water temperature dropped to the low seventies. At the 12 hour mark it was in the mid sixties where it stayed mostly constant. Most ales are happy in this range, so I am happy. The ambient temperature was in the high seventies. Initial tests showed that it could hold 65-ish° without a full fermenter even in 90° F weather, giving me a 25° drop under ambient. I am using the AC's built-in thermostat, which probably doesn't go much lower than 65. I measured 40° air coming out of the unit, so with the right controller I could get down lower.

I do not know how efficient it is. When the cooler is in full swing I felt around all the likely places where cold might escape and only found one. I would like to purchase a watt-hour meter to see how much electricity this thing needs. The total cost of the cooler comes in at around $380 for materials; my time is more precious, but who's counting?

The cooler appears to be ready for a maiden fermentation, but I have not decided what to make. There is space for two 15-gallon fermenters and four corny kegs, so I have the capacity to make a respectable amount of beer.

25 July, 2008

Bryan/College Station Homebrew Club

Analytics shows me that people come to my blog looking for information on homebrew clubs in the Bryan / College Station area of Texas. Since I am trying to start one up I thought it good to increase my pagerank with a little post about the new club.

My wife and I moved to Bryan in January 2008 from San Jose, CA. I was part of the Sudzers homebrew club there, and upon arriving in the Bryan/College Station area I checked around for clubs. Not finding any I decided to try starting one. Using Craigslist and the TexAgs forum I quickly amassed a number of homebrewers.

Our first meeting happened in April with about 20 people showing up to brew beer. The second followed a month later and the third will be this weekend.

We do not have a name or web site yet, but I hope to decide upon that this weekend. If you want to learn about making beer, or like drinking good beer drop me a line on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Follow this blog too, check the posts labeled brewclub.


26 May, 2008

Creativespace ESB

I made 10 gallons of a simple ESB today, and it turned out fine. The ingredients came from Austin Homebrew Supply.


  • 17 lbs Maris Otter Pale
  • 1.5 lbs Crystal 60L
OG 10.75° Plato

  • 2 oz 7.7% AA Brewer's Gold (60 mins)
  • 2 ox 4.5% AA Yakima Goldings (15 mins)
Est 41.8 IBU

White Labs WLP002 English Ale yeast

What went well:
  • Brewday was quite smooth. I now have a great grasp of how my equipment works together and how to fit brewday tasks into the downtime between hop additions and mash stirrings.
  • I verified that water loss in my mash tun is acceptably small — less than half a gallon. I wondered about losses here because my manifold is not sweated together meaning that suction could be lost before collecting all the sweet wort.
  • I got about 65% efficiency out of my system, which is better than usual. I did a little better on the SG than suggested by Austin Homebrew.
  • The hand-drill paint stirrer is just awesome for aerating wort.
Concerns include:
  • The pitchable tube spent a day in the Texas heat because UPS doesn't knock very loud. It smelled a little funky when I opened it, but the starter was better.
  • I did not chill down to an ideal temperature before pitching. Threw the yeast into about 95° F wort. The fermenter is in a nice cool room now and I think the wort is cooler than last time.
For my readers looking for an update on the duck-in cooler, I made little progress since the last post. Too much weekend traveling. After the Longshot Competition judging this weekend, though, I will have time to finish it.


27 April, 2008

Here is Proof My Wife Loves Me and Wants Me To Be Happy

With apologies to Ben Franklin.

My last beer fermented a little too warm and turned out full of esters. What I am calling The Fruity Brit is still drinkable as demonstrated last night when Adie and I had eight friends over for pizza and beer. The first keg is at least three gallons light. A good time was had by all, even without chairs.

The Fruity Brit is light on hops and body. I can pretend there is a clean malt profile, but the fermentation flaws overpower that. However, I hit the alcohol content right on the button: non-offensive. The Brit's gravity bottomed out at 4° brix falling from 6°, putting it at about 2.3% ABV. Next time I will start and end higher, and throw in more hops for good measure. My objective is to zero in on a medium-bodied, lightly hopped British session beer.

While gatherings of friends will continue, I do not anticipate unaided fermentations to turn out any better. As summer approaches, Texas ain't getting cooler. In Redwood City I had a chest freezer with good control over bubbling carboys, but now I have fifteen gallon conicals towering four feet tall on PVC stands. Such things just do not fit in this sort of chest freezer. A proper stand-up freezer runs around $500 and Craig's List here is pretty pathetic. Those stand-up freezers only fit one of my fermenters, but I expect to be brewing with increasing frequency.

Three weeks ago I started working on a walk-in cooler that could accommodate both my fifteen gallon conicals. Many entwined brewers might meet steep resistance from their significant others, but my beautiful wife simply smiled and told me what a great idea it was. My initial estimate for materials was two hundred dollars easy, but I will probably go over by around fifty percent. While I may get a grimace from Sweetie, I know she will support me. It makes me all warm and fuzzy thinking of how much she must love me.

To drive the cooler I have a window air conditioner (which I wanted to leave in Cali, but Adrienne insisted we keep it; how smart). Here is how my cooler starts; left to right, the frame for the bottom and top.

Basic dimensions are 4x2 and 5 feet high. The skeleton is mostly finished 2x2 furring strips with a few 2x4 studs in key places. Here it stands loose fit together.

For insulation I am using reflective bubble wrap insulation stapled to the exterior plywood:

Followed by loose-fill insulation.

Then a semi-rigid plastic interior layer glued and stapled to the frame (see below). The floor gets a layer of plywood under the plastic to support the weight of the fermenting beer. Here is a shot of the bottom corner, the frame nailed to the floor.

Today a friend, Clay, and I made a lot of progress on the cooler. He is an electrician and offered to wire up an outlet, switch and light fixture. With these features, the project goes to way-cool.

Here is the back. The large opening is the AC mount. Clay is putting the light switch in center-top in our make-shift wiring box. All of the standard-type electrical bits and bobs are made for 2x4 studs while my walls are one and three-quarters thick, so we have to be creative.

Here is Clay again working on the light fixture. It is slightly too deep for the ceiling so we shimmed it out, taking advantage of the flexible plastic to hide the protrusion. We filled this with insulation and covered in plywood.

I will get some pictures of the interior up soon. When it is done I will break down the cost of materials. Expect a second follow-up when the thing is working.

In parting, I would like to thank Adrienne for allowing this project to take up my time, our money and her "pretty living room" for three weeks, going on six. I love you sweetie.


06 April, 2008

First Brew-In

Weeks in advance the word went out through Craigslist, Facebook and TexAgs, trickling through emails from friend to friends. When brewday about 20 people showed to share beer, make beer, talk beer and have a good time. Three people brought their gear and we made 21 gallons of beer. I made an ordinary bitter, Ian made some hefeweizen, and a trio of brewers crafted chocolate raspberry stout.
I would say it was a great success. There was plenty of home and commercial brew going around and there was some great tri-tip off the bar-b-que. As is typical of many homebrew clubs, there was just a little bit of club business to discuss and a next meeting to decide on. Josh and Leslie volunteered their place for the next meeting and we quickly decided on May 3rd. I am pretty excited at the ease with which everyone got along and the eagerness of the group to continue gathering.

For 11 gallons of Ordinary Bitter:
Actual OG 1.034
Estimated IBU 26


  • 12 Lbs Crisp Maris Otter
  • 1.5 Lbs CaraMalt
Mash at 150° F with 1.7 quarts water per pound of grain for 90 minutes.

  • 1.0 oz 5.3% AA E.K. Goldings 90 minutes
  • 0.5 oz 9.0% AA Target (pellet) 90 minutes
  • 1.0 oz 5.3% AA E.K. Goldings 15 minutes
  • 1.0 oz 5.3% AA E.K. Goldings 1 minute
Starter of WYeast 1098, British Ale yeast.

My brew-day went smoothly until the end. My kettle screen let some hop leaves by and they got clogged somewhere leaving me with half-chilled wort. What I should have done was stop the chill, disassemble my apparatus and back-flush the system into the kettle. What I did instead was to dump the hot wort into the fermenter to air cool. I had to walk the fine line between pitching yeast into scalding wort and giving infection too much time to take hold. I think I pitched too hot because it took about 24 hours to see activity from a decent starter. I would really like to get my system hard-plumbed and on a stand.
I had two new gadgets to play with yesterday. The filter worked well once I realized it would be fine if I glued the casing together instead of worrying about replacing the filter after 10,000 gallons. I also bought a "Squirrel" brand paint mixer to aerate wort. That thing whipped up a six-inch head of foam in no time, making it a great purchase.

01 April, 2008

Cheap, Simple Water Filtering

The water here in Bryan, TX is soft, but stinks of chlorine. I finally decided to put together a water filter for my growing brewery. I got the specs from the January 2007 issue of Brew magazine. They have yet to put that article online, so here it is. I built it for about $40, but you can probably do better.

The Culligan WHR-140 filter is intended to be used in a shower head, so you get much better throughput than a faucet filter. The manufacturer says it is good for 10,000 gallons, or about 770 ten-gallon batches. It is good at removing chlorine, sulfur and heavy metals. I got mine from Amazon for about $20 delivered. You can get that down to $14 if you find it locally.

The five other parts are:

  • 2" PVC slip-fit coupling
  • 2" x 3/4'" MPT PVC slip-fit bushing X 2
  • 3/4" MPT x female garden hose adapter
  • 3/4" MPT hose bib adapter

If you want to cut costs, switch out the hose-bib adapter (a $7 part) for a the corresponding MPT x male garden hose adapter.

Here the filter fits snugly inside the bushing adapter:
It makes a compact filter and the full-port ball-valve is a nice way to save running around to the spigot. When I water-tested the assembly, the backpressure was enough to blow the thing apart, so I plan on checking out threaded bushings. Failing that, I will glue one bushing in and strap the whole thing together.

17 March, 2008

Starting a Brewclub

In January Adrienne and I moved from San Jose, CA to Bryan, TX. The Bay Area has a thriving homebrew culture and I was a member of the Silicon Valley Sudzers. Club meetings and outings are something that Adie and I both enjoyed and we left a great group of people behind. Sadly, the Bryan/College Station metro offers no clubs.

Last month I started looking for interest in starting up a club. In my research I came across a Yahoo! group from a club that had been active in the early part of the century (last post 2005). I believe that there are enough brewers in the area to support a club so, with the help of Adrienne and two or three other brewers, I am founding a B/CS club.

We do not have a name yet, but we do have a first event: a brew-in on April 5th. The first order of business is to publish the event in the various electronic media, and track interested people.

Watch this blog for my experiences starting a club. I have some solid resources back with the Sudzers, the Draft Board, and the Mad Zymurgists.


The temperature dropped into the low 30's F for a few nights last week. On one of the last such nights I put the kölsch out overnight to crash cool in preparation for transfer to a keg. That crash, three weeks of sitting and a little Irish moss have done their job. I was rewarded with a clear yellow beer.
The kölsch turned out great. Pours clear and golden with a lingering thin white head. It has a medium-light body balanced to the malty side with enough bitterness to be barely noticeable. Since it was in the fermenter for so long the FG dropped to 1.009 and it tastes just a little over-attenuated. My only gripe with it is that I only got 3.5 gallons of it.

09 February, 2008

Where the Fuck Are My Hops Kölsch

First brew-day in Texas! There is no LHBS in B/CS so I ordered a Kölsch and a Bitter from Northern Brewer. I figured Kölsch is a good way to ease any megaswill-drinking new friends into good beer. Last night I went through boxes of packed equipment and retrieved what I need to brew. I had a nice starter ready. Everything looked set to go.

The recipe from NB:


  • 9 lbs Durst Pilsen
  • 1 lbs. Weyermann Pale Wheat
  • 1 oz. Argentina Cascade (60 min)
  • 1 oz. Argentina Cascade (30 min)

Wyeast #2565

I started the strike water around 11:30 (central time) just as a couple of my friends showed up to watch the process. When I went go get the ingredients from the cupboard I discovered that the hops were missing. Either I misplaced them or NB didn't ship them.... This was the perfect opportunity to introduce the guys to the homebrewer's creed: "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew." Lacking homebrewed beer, I pulled out some Fancy Lawnmower ale from St Arnold's Brewery (a kölsch) and went for the ingredients from the bitter. EKG, Target, Magnum.... This won't quite make the BJCP standard definition of kölsch.

  • 0.75 oz 8% AA Target 60 mins
  • 1.00 oz 5% AA E.K. Goldings 30 mins
I also couldn't find my depth meter (an aluminum ruler), so I had to eyeball the amount of strike water. It turns out I had too much, leaving me with a dilute mash and not enough sparge water. My efficiency is way off because in the end I collected about 4 gallons of 11% brix wort.

I am glad to be making beer again, glad to have six or eight new friends (enough to start a homebrew club) to share the process with (in no small part because of the beer for them). I'll probably find those hops tomorrow.