Pliny the Elder Clone

>> Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Most beer enthusiasts have probably heard of Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing Co. It's known as one of the finer examples of a double IPA. I'm a big fan of hoppy beers and one of my favs is Hop Ottin' IPA from Anderson Valley Brewing Co. I've been wanting to try Pliny the Elder but it's not available in Utah and even on a recent trip to SoCal I wasn't able to locate any. So when a recent Zymurgy issue included a clone recipe I figured it was a good time to give it a try. I have started my yeast starter and will be brewing this batch in the next couple days.

13 lbs 4.0 oz Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 87.17 %
9.6 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt - 45L (45.0 SRM) Grain 3.95 %
9.6 oz Carapils (Briess) (1.5 SRM) Grain 3.95 %
12.0 oz Dextrose (Briess) (1.0 SRM) Sugar 4.93 %
3.50 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] (90 min) Hops 149.6 IBU
0.75 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] (45 min) Hops 27.5 IBU
1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] (30 min) Hops 28.5 IBU
1.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %] (0 min) Hops -
2.50 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] (0 min) Hops -
1.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %] (Dry Hop 13 days) Hops -
1.00 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] (Dry Hop 13 days) Hops -
1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] (Dry Hop 13 days) Hops -
0.25 oz Centennial [10.00 %] (Dry Hop 5 days) Hops -
0.25 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] (Dry Hop 5 days) Hops -
0.25 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] (Dry Hop 5 days) Hops -
1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001) Yeast-Ale

Mash at 151-152 for 60 minutes.
Collect 8 gallons and stir in dextrose.
Boil for 90 minutes and chill to 67.
Pitch two packages of yeast or a yeast starter.
Ferment at 67 and rack to secondary after fermentaton subsides.
Add first set of dry hops in secondary (13 day addition).
On the 8th day, add the second set of dry hops (5 day addition).

Update: This was a fantastic IPA. I still haven't tried the commercial version but I took a growler of this to a beer tasting party and I had a lot of people tell me this was a spot on clone. I'll brew this one again for sure. The only con is the cost of all the hops can be a bit cost prohibitive as this batch cost about double compared to my typical brews. This one is definitely an A+, especially for hop-heads.


Watermelon Wheat

A little while back on AHA Tech Talk, a few brewers were talking about Watermelon Wheat recipes. To be honest it sounded disgusting to me at first, but several brewers raved about theirs so I figured I'd give it a shot.
I tried making a Raspberry Wheat a couple years ago and wasn't very happy with the results. I'd read that to make a good fruit beer, you need to take the amount of fruit you think you need to use, and at least double it. I figured it'd be a lot cheaper to use 6 pounds of watermelon than the same amount of fresh raspberries, blueberries, etc. So even if it turned out bad at least I wouldn't be out a bunch of money.
I basically stumbled upon the below recipe on Out of Key Brewing's blog ( and it's based on 21st Amendment's Watermelon Wheat. I gotta say it turned out awesome, so well done Brian.
I used a seeded watermelon and I purposefully used an over-ripe melon in order to maximize flavor. I've been told the best way to find ripe watermelon is to look where the stem connects to the fruit...the more brown the more ripe at harvest; the more green the more un-ripe at harvest.

6 lbs 8.0 oz Fruit - Watermelon
6 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) US
4 lbs Wheat - White Malt
1.00 oz Hallertauer [4.80 %] (60 min) Hops 16.7 IBU
1.00 oz Hallertauer [4.80 %] (5 min) Hops 3.3 IBU
1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001) Yeast-Ale

Target O.G. is 1.050. Mash at 152 for 1 hour. Ferment in primary at low 60's for 1 week. Rack beer onto fruit puree in the secondary. Puree the fruit from a 10 pound watermelon. This should give you 6-7 pounds of fruit. Use a blowoff hose as fermentation will restart and should be active.

One interesting note, the reddish color in the melon meat seems to be comprised of solids that tend to settle out in the secondary. So the final product is a light straw yellow with a bright white head.

Update: This is another keeper. I took a growler of this with me to a December beer tasting. I think almost everyone had the same reaction as me when I first heard mention of a watermelon wheat. However, after tasting it most people seemed to really enjoy it including a few who said they really don't usually like fruit beers. The watermelon flavor is very noticeable here, not subtle whatsoever. Appearance-wise the brew was a straw color and was crystal clear with a bright dense white head. The aroma was very nice...almost perfume-like. I'm not a huge fruit beer guy, but I do enjoy a good one and I love watermelon, so I'd rate this one an A+


BCS-460 Brew Session

>> Monday, June 29, 2009

Today I’m documenting a full BCS-460 brew session. I’m brewing a Toasted Coconut Porter based on the recipe by Fujiura, the 1998 Homebrewer of the Year. I found the recipe on the Internet so hopefully it’s true to the original.

My disclaimer, I don't work for Embedded Control Concepts nor am I associated with them in any way. But I do think this is a great product and I'm excited about it so I thought it might be helpful to others by documenting a brew session from start to boil.

Grain Bill
9 lbs Maris Otter Pale Malt (2 Row)
1 lbs 9.6 oz Hugh Baird Chocolate Malt
9.6 oz Briess Crystal Malt - 80L
1.25 oz Northern Brewer [8.50 %] (60 min) Hops 35.9 IBU
0.60 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] (10 min) Hops 3.7 IBU
1 Pkgs London Ale III (Wyeast Labs #1318) Yeast-Ale

Mash Profile
Mash at 153 for 90 minutes

Recipe Notes
14.2 ounces toasted coconut. Use dried unsweetened coconut and toast on cookie sheet 15 min at 350 in oven or carefully toast in a fry pan. Rack beer onto coconut in secondary for 7 days.

My BCS-460-based HERMS
My HERMS consists of a Hot Liquor Tun, a Heat Exchanger, a Mash Tun, a March brew pump, and a BCS-460 equipped with two temperature probes. The BCS-460 is mounted remotely in the utility room in my basement. I ran some CAT 6 cable to the back patio and this is used to control the heating elements and also for connecting the temp probes. I also have two separate 20 amp GFCI circuits on the back patio. The HLT is connected to one of these circuits and the HEX is connected to the other. The heating elements are 1500 watt, 120 volt elements drawing approx 12.5 amps each. The solid state relays for controlling the heating elements and pump are mounted in the small electrical box mounted on the brew stand. The benefit of the BCS-460 controller is that it allows you to precisely control things like mash temp which helps the home brewer have more easily repeatable results. Check out my other blog posts for more info and pics of my HERMS. Check out for more info on the BCS-460.

Brewing Process
I programmed my BCS-460 for a single infusion mash. At the very bottom of this post you'll find the text from the configuration file for my system. The process consists of 7 states.

System Startup
The first state is System Startup where the Heat Exchanger (HEX) is preheated and the strike water is heated in the Hot Liquor Tun (HLT). I’m using 1.5 quarts of strike water per pound of grain for this recipe and my brewing software calculated an initial strikewater temp of 165.3 was needed. Here you can see a screen shot of the BCS-460 at work during startup. One note, my laptop doesn’t have the greatest graphics card so I zoomed out in the browser to be able to capture as much of the screen as possible. As a result it cuts part of the bottom off of temp probe graphics. It took 44 minutes to heat 16.8 quarts to 165.3. Also, the HEX has two different positions for the HEX temp probe. During Startup, the Temp probe is inserted into the top of the HEX and is measuring the temp of the water in the HEX. At Dough-in, the HEX temp probe is switched to position 2 where it’s measuring the temp of the mash exiting the HEX. This state is exited by clicking on the Web Input 0 button.

Start Mash
The next State is Start Mash. This state is essentially a pause that allows for stirring the grain and strikewater into the mash tun. The heating elements in the HEX and HLT are turned off at this time. This state is exited by clicking on the Web Input 0 button.

The next state is Dough-in. This is simply a count-down timer for 6 minutes. When the timer reaches 0:00, the Dough-In state is exited and the Mash state begins. 6 minutes may seem a little short for dough in, but keep in mind before I kicked off this state I refilled the HLT, checked hoses, and swapped the HEX temp probe from position 1 to position 2. So the total dough-in time is probably closer to 15 minutes. Also, since the HEX temp has been switched to position 2 but the mash isn’t being circulated yet, the temp reading on the HEX isn’t accurate at this time.

During the Mash state, the mash is being recirculated through the HEX and the water in the HLT is heated for the sparge. The heating element in the HEX is cycled on as needed in order to maintain the mash temp. You can see in the pic below the temp of the mash exiting the HEX is at 153.1, the HLT is heating the sparge water, and the pump is active. Also, Timer 0 is used to countdown the 90 minute mash. When the timer reaches 0:00, the Mash state is exited to the Mash Out state.

Mash Out
During this state the temp of the mash is raised to 168. Once the mash out temp is reached, the state is exited to Start Sparge. The HLT is maintained at 165. As you can see it took a little under 7 minutes to raise the mash temp to 168.

Start Sparge
Similar to Start Mash, this state is essentially a pause that allows for swapping hoses and such. This is exited by clicking on the Web Input 0 button. Essentially everything is turned off.

During this state the heating element in the HLT is turned off. The HEX is powered on when the sparge water drops below the setpoint of 170. This state is exited by clicking on the Web Input 0 button. At some point I’d like to add some float switches to control the end of this state.

The rest of the brewing process (boil and chilling) is manual, so that's about it as far as the BCS-460 controlled portion. Hopefully that was helpful to those that are considering purchasing a BCS-460 or have purchased one and were a little confused as to where to start.

Single Infusion Mash Configuration


Resurrecting Yeast

>> Thursday, May 14, 2009

Last year Wyeast did a limited edition release of New Belgium's Fat Tire yeast (WYXL1792). I'm a fan of Fat Tire and who knows when/if Wyeast will release this strain again. So I brewed a batch way back when it was originally released and decided I better try to save some for later.

I collected the yeast and stored it in the fridge in sanitized White Labs tubes. The yeast has been sitting in my fridge ever since and I noticed it was starting to turn more of a darker beige rather than the light tan normally associated with healthy yeast. I'm guessing this is due to the fact that the yeast is getting older. I remember a Basic Brewing podcast in which James Spencer was able to nurse an old yeast sample back to life. If I remember correctly, it was about a year or more old and his LHBS gave it to him for free. So I decided to give it a try and use my recently constructed stir plate to try to resurrect this strain.

I made a simple wort as described in John Palmer's how to brew. I pitched the yeast about 30 minutes ago, so time will tell if I'm able to bring this yeast back to life.

Update 5/26/2009: I haven't had time to brew a batch yet, but it seems as though I was able to nurse the Fat Tire yeast back to health. I added one White Labs sized sample of yeast and after a few days was able to harvest four+ samples. They probably have about 2/3 volume of a typical White Labs sample, so they'd benefit from a starter a few days before brew day. I'm going to try to brew a batch of my Microbus Amber this weekend. I'll post the results (hopefully good) as soon as I have them. I'm interested to see how stable this yeast is or if it will mutate after a few batches. My sample had a really nice bread/biscuit aroma, so hopefully that's a good sign.

Update 6/29/2009: I never did get around to brewing this batch but I saved the yeast yet again. So this one is still in limbo.


Yeast Stir Plate Update

>> Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I finally got my stir bar for my DIY stir plate. The stir plate kept throwing my stir bar so I had to modify the magnet mounting slightly. Originally I mounted the magnets to the outside of the washer mounted on the PC fan. I ended up moving the magnets inward so that they meet at the axis of the rotating fan. I also replaced the original 12VDC power supply with a 6VDC one. The 12VDC power supply was just a little too powerful even when the rheostat was turned all the way down. Even with the 6VDC power supply, I get a nice little vortex from 25% on up. I'll be brewing a Rauchbier this weekend. Rauchbier is a German Smoked Lager and since it's a lager it's best to have a good sized yeast starter. So I'll probably fire up the starter tomorrow night (Wednesday) and brew on Saturday. Here's video of the stir plate in action.

Another update 2/22/2011: After accidentally losing a stir bar down the disposal last year I ordered a larger one with a pivot ring.  The new one is slightly over an inch long and seems to work much better in that the stir bar rarely gets thrown now.


BCS-460 First Trial

>> Monday, April 20, 2009

My BCS-460 HERMS is fully functional. I brewed my first batch on it on 4/25 and everything went fairly well. The only problem I had was for mash out I'm raising the temp from the mash temperature (in this case 158 F) to 168 F. I was able to raise the temp over a period of about 10 minutes. Then I swapped hoses and routed the sparge water through the HEX. The problem was the temp of the HEX was actually higher than the 168 from heating the mash, so my sparge water was getting heated to approx 172. No problem, I just removed the copper coil from the HEX and the temp dropped to 168. I think next time I'll either reduce the temp of the HEX during mashout or I'll reduce the temp of the sparge water in the HLT.

Anyway, here are some pics I took during the inaugural brew session and also a few I took during construction. The quality isn't all that great in some. For the brew session I brewed indoors due to bad weather so the lighting isn't all that great.


Programming the BCS-460

>> Sunday, April 05, 2009

For those not familiar with the BCS-460, it's a web-based process controller available from Embedded Control Concepts. The BCS-460 allows brewers to automate certain processes and closely control things like mash temperature. The goal is to brew more consistently with more easily repeatable results. So if I brew "Recipe A" on three separate occasions, the end product should be very similar each time.

I've setup the initial programming on my BCS-460. I'm sure I'll tweak the programming slightly after a few trials, but here is the logic as it exists right now. I've named Process 0 Single Inf Mash and it consists of the following states:

  • System start
  • Start Mash
  • Dough-in
  • Mash
  • Mash Out
  • Start Sparge
  • Sparge

System Start

This state controls the heating elements in the Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) and Heat Exchanger (HEX). The water in the HLT will be heated for the strike water. The BCS-460 will heat the water to the desired temperature. This process is exited by clicking on one of the user input buttons.

Start Mash

During this state, only the HEX is on. This allows for transferring the strike water from the HLT to the mash tun, hose swaps, etc. This process is also exited by clicking on an input button. After the strike water is transferred to the mash tun, I refill the HLT with water to be used for the sparge.


This state powers on the HEX and HLT. The exit condition is based on a timer initialized at 12 minutes. When the timer gets to 0:00, the state is exited to the Mash.


During this state, the HLT, HEX, and pump are powered on. The mash liquid is circulated through the HEX in order to maintain temperature. The HLT's sparge water is heated to 170. This state is also controlled by a timer initialized to 60 minutes.

Mash Out

This state raises the mash temperature for mash out. The HLT, HEX, and pump are being controlled. Once the desired mash out temperature is reached, the state is exited.

Start Sparge

During this state the HLT and HEX are maintained at 170 degrees while the pump is turned off. This allows time for swapping hoses. This state is exited by clicking on a button.


During this state the HLT is off, the HEX is on, and the pump is on and the sparge water is pumped into the mash tun. This state is exited by clicking on a button.

I still have a few plumbing fittings to buy as well as some electrical components. I hope to have these items pieced together within a couple weeks so that I can run the BCS-460 through some trials before my first brewing attempt.


Yeast Stir Plate

>> Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One item I've been planning on building for a while is a yeast stir plate. The purpose of the yeast stir plate is to boost the cell count in yeast starters resulting in higher pitch rates and healthier starters. This should reduce lag time before active fermentation begins and theoretically should improve the final product.

Commercial yeast stir plates can be fairly expensive so I'm going the DIY route. I wish I could claim I came up with the idea for the stir plate, but it's basically modeled after others on the web. The components and prices are as follows.

Disclaimer: I'm not an electrician and I can't guaranty the safety of this device. If you choose to build a similar device, do so at your own risk.

Here is a very basic wiring diagram that even non-technical people should be able to understand.

Click here for Steps 1-2


Stir Plate - Step 1 - 2

I'm not going to go into a ton of detail because I figure most people that will attempt this project are somewhat technical and probably pretty handy. So here are the steps I used to build the stir plate:

1. I drilled a hole in the front of the project box for the rheostat. I also drilled a hole in the back for the power supply cord. Finally, I used a Dremel to cut out a relatively square-ish hole on the front for the power switch.

2. Next I connected the wiring...except for the fan. I didn't connect the fan at this point because it hadn't arrived yet. The connections on the rheostat are soldered, the switch uses female solderless terminals and I used a few crimp on connectors. I tried to keep things clean by using a few zip ties.

Click here for Steps 3-5


Stir Plate - Steps 3 - 5

3. Next I mounted the fan. I chose to mount the fan to the bottom of the project box. A lot of the others I've seen have the fan mounted to the top of the project box but I wanted a cleaner look. Four #10 x 1.5 inch screws are inserted through the bottom of the box. A nut is tightened down on each screw on the inside of the box. Each screw is then screwed into the mounting holes on the fan frame. It seems pretty secure and I'll be able to adjust the height of the fan by a simple turn of the screws.

4. With the fan in place, the two wires are connected.

5. Next I attached the fender washer to the fan hub. I first tried mounting the washer using 5-minute epoxy and eyeballing the washer for center. This didn't work out very well because the washer was a little over 1/16th of an inch off center. Even on the lowest speed there was a lot of vibration. Luckily I was able to carefully scrape off the epoxy and gently pry the washer loose.

For the second attempt, I put a piece of masking tape on the fan hub, powered it on, then used a Sharpie to make several concentric circles. I then used a utility knife with the fan powered on to cut just outside the biggest circle so that the excess tape could be removed. I used the Sharpie circles as guides to ensure the washer was perfectly centered. I also used a hot glue gun to secure the washer rather than epoxy just in case it took more than one try. The second attempt was much more accurate and virtually eliminated vibration on all but the highest speeds.

Click here for Steps 6-7


Stir Plate - Steps 6 - 7

6. The next thing I did was attach the magnets to the washer. I used the Sharpie to make a couple reference lines and temporarily taped them in place and tested for vibration. I then used hot glue to attach them to the washer.

7. The last step was just final assembly which consisted of attaching the box top, attaching a control knob to the rheostat, and finally adding a few silicone self-adhesive bumpers for feet.

Next up is ordering a stir bar and road testing the stir plate.


Stainless Steel Ball Valves

>> Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I picked up some new ball valves off ebay. They're 1/2" Flowserve Series 4 all stainless steel ball valves and they are hefty. Each one weighs in at approximately 1.5 pounds and they're rated for up to 3000 PSI and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I only paid $4.58 for both of them, pretty good deal. The 180 degree max temperature is a bit low so I won't be able to use them on my boil kettle, but they should work fine on the MT/LT, HLT, or conical fermenter.


HERMS Design

>> Sunday, March 01, 2009

I'm in the process of building a HERMS system. The brains of the system is the BCS-460 Programmable Logic Controller from Embedded Control Concepts. It will be composed of the basic elements present in other HERMS systems:
  1. Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) - 5 gallon Rubbermaid cooler heated by a 1500 watt 120 volt water heater element
  2. Heat Exchanger (HX) - 2 gallon Rubbermaid Cooler heated by a 1500 watt 120 volt water heater element and consisting of 10 feet of 1/2" copper tubing
  3. Mash / Lauter Tun (MLT) - 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler
  4. Pump - Brand a model to be determined
  5. Boil Kettle - 8 gallon
The controller will be used to turn the heating elements and pump on and off at various times throughout the brewing process.

Hot Liquor Tank >>


HERMS Equipment - Hot Liquor Tank

The Hot Liquor Tank is based on a 5 gallon Rubbermaid cooler. The lid is drilled in the center and a temperature probe for the BCS-460 has been inserted. The HLT is heated by a 1500 watt 120 volt water heater element.

Heat Exchanger >>


HERMS Equipment - Heat Exchanger

The Heat Exchanger is based on a 2 gallon Rubbermaid cooler. It holds approximately 1.5 gallons of water and is heated by a 1500 watt 120 volt water heater element. The heat exchange is accomplished with 10 feet of 1/2" copper tubing.

Mash Tun >>


HERMS Equipment - Mash Tun

The Mash Tun is based on a 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler. The lid is drilled and fitted with a grommet through which the return manifold is fitted. The return manifold is used for circulating the mash and for delivering the sparge water. It's contructed of 1/2" copper pipe and I've cut slots into the end of the T section in order to distribute the liquid without disturbing the grain bed.

1. System Startup >>


1. System Startup

Controller turns on heating elements in Hot Liquor Tank and Heat Exchanger and heats water to preset temperatures. The water in the HLT will be transferred to the MLT and used for the mash in. Since the HEX is only 1.5 gallons and will not take very long to heat, it will probably be turned on after the strike water reached the target temp.
2. Mash >>


2. Mash

The mash will be circulated by the pump. It will travel from MT to Pump to HX and back to MT. The HX will be used to maintain mash temperature for single infusion mashes and to increase temperature for step mashes and mash out. Sparge water will be heating in the HLT during the mashing process.

3. Sparge >>


3. Sparge

During the sparge, hot water is pumped through the HX to the MT and the sweet runnings are collected from the MT in the BK. I may end up bypassing the HX, it just depends on whether I run into any problems with the HLT temps.