Saturday, March 30, 2013

Janet's Brown Ale

Today I'm brewing a version of Janet's Brown Ale. This is based on the gold medal recipe from The Brewing Network's Mike "Tasty" McDole. This beer was his late wife's favorite brew, and it's named after her. It's described as an American Brown Ale which tends to be hoppier than an English Brown. This one even pushes the hop limits for an American Brown but I've been craving some hoppy beers lately so I'm looking forward to it.

I ran into a little hiccup on my version. I adjusted the recipe for my efficiency and went to the LHBS to pick up my specialty grains. When I got home I threw them on my digital scale and I was almost eight ounces short of my target. I measured each one closely but this shop doesn't have digital scales so I must have messed up on at least one of them; I suspect they're all a bit shy. Since I didn't know which one, I decided to make up the difference with base malt. I still think this is going to be a great beer, but it'll probably be a tad lighter brown than intended and also a tad higher ABV. This is the first time doing a mash hop addition. It's said it gives it a different bitterness profile than boil hops (smoother is one description) so I'm excited to try it out. It's also the first time using Patagonia Malt. I guess the LHBS has carried it for a little while but I just didn't notice it. I was planning on using Crisp's Chocolate Malt but decided to give this a try.

Below is the intended recipe, not exactly as I brewed it:

10.03 # Briess Pale 2-row Malt
1.04 # Briess Crystal 40L
1.04 # Briess Carapils
0.83 # Rahr White Wheat Malt
0.42 # Patagonia Chocolate Malt
1.00 oz (28g) Northern Brewer (Mash Hop)
1.25 oz (36g) Northern Brewer (60 min)
1.00 oz (28g) Northern Brewer (15 min)
1.50 oz (43g) Cascade (10 min)
1.50 oz (43g) Cascade (0 min)
2.00 oz (57g) Centennial (Dry Hop)
Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
WLP001 California Ale Yeast in a 1.120L starter

Mash at 154F. 60 minute boil. Ferment at 67F

Brewing Notes
Other than the recipe hiccup, everything went well on this batch. Since I kind of screwed up the recipe, I'm not going to bother trying to figure out my efficiency on this batch. The color doesn't seem too far off for a brown ale, so that was a relief.

Update 3/31/2013
I checked on the fermentation this afternoon and as you can see it's pretty active. I normally ferment with the lid on but the gasket on my conical broke before the last brew session. I ordered a replacement but it hasn't arrived yet. I don't get a very good seal without the gasket, so it's less messy without the lid than trying to use a blow-off hose. This beer smells fantastic so I'm looking forward to trying it.

Update 5/18/2013
I put this beer on tap a couple weeks ago for National Homebrew Day. I can see why this brew has won so many awards. I'll definitely be brewing this one again.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

HLT and MLT Upgrade

Earlier this month I posted my redesigned Heat Exchanger. Not long after that I upgraded my Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) and Mash/Lauter Tun (MLT) from cooler-based to stainless vessels. I was able to reuse a lot of the parts from my cooler-based HLT and MLT which saved me a little bit of money. Both use the same Kal/Blichmann style weldless fittings for the valve assembly and the HLT uses the same style of element mount (except that it's mounted through the side).

As for the pots themselves, both stainless steel pots are from my local Asian market where they sell for $69.99 each. The reason I mention this is I almost ordered the economy welded pots from or Both sites offer economy kettles with two welded 1/2" fittings and they're a pretty good deal at around $80-$90 each. The only drawback was they maxed out at around 8.5 gallons, and that was a bit smaller than I wanted, especially for the MLT. The stainless pots I'm using measure 16"H x 15"D, so the total volume is 12.24 gallons. The quality of these pots seems pretty good but I don't know that I'd recommend them for a Boil Kettle over a gas burner as they're a little thin and not triple clad, so there's a better chance of scorching. Also, I don't think I'd trust lifting them by the handles when they're full.

I was a little concerned about using my existing false bottom (12" in diameter) with the wider vessel but I didn't see much difference in efficiency in my last brew session (83-84% is typical). One thing I did change up was the element; the original used a 1500 watt element just like the HEX, but this one uses a 2000 watt element. This should heat the water a little quicker. One more mod I'm still planning on is a sight glass for the HLT so I can tell how much water I've transferred for the mash and make sure I have enough left for the sparge. I'm also trying to decide where to install the HLT temp probe fitting. I'm kind of leaning towards installing it through the side of the HLT. Here are a few pics of the shiny new vessels.

HLT interior

Sparge assembly through lid of MLT
HLT element enclosure
MLT interior
Update 3/30/2013
I ordered a couple more parts for my HLT. I decided on going through the wall of the pot for my temp probe, so I ordered a thermowell from Brewers Hardware. It will utilize the same type of bulkhead fitting as the others (Kal/Blichmann style). I haven't decided where to mount it yet, but it will most likely be fairly low in the HLT so that I can read the temp even when the water level is low. I'll post an updated pic once I have it installed.

I also ordered a 1/4" compression x 1/2" MPT stainless fitting to replace the brass fitting currently installed in the HEX. 

For the HLT sight gauge, I think I've settled on this one by Fermentap available through MoreBeer. I like that it's glass and that it has a protective sheath. I'm only planning on installing one in my HLT. I'd considered installing one on my BK, but I'm afraid I'd bang it around too much. I haven't ordered it yet but I think I'll start dropping some Father's Day hints.

Update 4/10/2013
Here are a couple pics of the compression fitting on the HEX and the HLT thermowell. The thermowell is mounted at the same height as the ball valve (2 1/4" on center from the bottom). I also had to arrange the Kal/Blichmann style bulkhead slightly different because of the small diameter of the thermowell's hex head. You can see in the one pic that it uses two washers on the outside in order to hold the silicone o-ring in the correct position. The standard BCS temp probes easily fit in the thermowell. I'm planning on trying this out this coming weekend when I brew another Saison.
HEX fitting for temp probe 
HLT thermowell outside
HLT thermowell inside
Update 4/20/2013
I was a little disappointed with the thermowell performance. It worked great when heating the initial strike water for the mash, but then after topping off the HLT to heat the water for the sparge I noticed the element seemed to be firing too frequently and for too long. I grabbed a digital thermometer and checked the temp and it was 10+ degrees over my target temp. Seems I wasn't getting good contact between the thermowell and temp probe unless I held it in place...not good. I could have used some thermal paste in the thermowell, but that seems to defeat the purpose of having a thermowell and being able to easily remove the probe. Instead, I ordered another 1/2" male NPT x 1/4" compression fitting (same as on the HEX). I did some tests last night and it seems to be working much better.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

American Pale Ale

Today I'm brewing an American Pale Ale. This may not be the most exotic of craft brews but it's very enjoyable and I've been craving a lighter session beer with some nice hop character. This is also the first brew session using my new heat exchanger (HEX), hot liquor tank (HLT), and mash tun (MT). I haven't done a write-up on the new HLT and MT yet but like the HEX they're essentially inspired by Kal's Electric Brewery.

This recipe is based on the American Pale Ale recipe from Brewing Classic Style. I've adjusted the grain bill based on an expected efficiency of around 83%.

8 lbs 10.8 oz Briess Pale Ale Malt 2-Row
9.2 oz Dingemans Munich Malt 7L
9.2 oz Briess Victory Malt
6.1 oz Rahr White Malt
0.66 oz Chinook - Boil 60.0 min
0.50 oz Centennial - Boil 10.0 min
0.50 oz Cascade - Boil 10.0 min
1.00 oz Cascade - Hopback
1.00 oz Centennial - Hopback
1.0 pkg California Ale (White Labs #WLP001) in 1L starter

Mash at 152F for 60 min.  60 min boil.

Ferment at 67F

Brewing Notes
The HEX seems to be performing well. Strike temp was a little low but I was able to raise the temp by almost 1.5F per minute. The old HEX was a bit over 1F per minute, so this seems to be performing at least as well as the original.

Brewhouse efficiency came in at 84.01% on this batch. This is consistent with the old equipment, so I'm glad I'm not seeing any huge differences.

OG 12.9P, 1.052

Update 5/18/2013
I put this one on tap a few weeks ago. This is a very good beer with some really nice bready and biscuit flavors. It has a real nice hop/malt balance; definitely lower hop flavor and aroma than my last SNPA clone but a great beer nonetheless.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Heat Exchanger Redesign

Finished HEX
I recently decided to build an upgraded version of my heat exchanger. The old one is based on a Rubbermaid cooler and has worked well but I know at some point the plastic is going to crack. I also thought I could have done a better job enclosing the element connections. Another issue is the half coupling used to mount the element; it has a tendency to pool water around the base of the element resulting in some rusting. This time I’ll be using a stainless nut that should allow the water to drain away from the element base. More on mounting the elements later.

My redesign is inspired by "The Electric Brewery" brew system. Kal's system is extremely well thought out and I’ve borrowed some of his ideas in the past for my own setup. Kal uses a HERMS coil in his HLT and I believe this design works well, but I really like the size of my HEX and the flexibility that comes from using a standalone HEX (e.g. the ability to change mash temps independently of the HLT temps). I figured I could take Kal’s design and implement it on a smaller scale and retain the flexibility and functionality of my design.

I started looking into vessels that I could modify to suit my needs. I wanted stainless steel so that it was easy to clean and would last a long time. I ended up settling on a 2.25 gallon Bain Marie pot that I picked up at my local Asian market. It seems to be well-made and at $10.99 it was pretty cheap. The material is thin but these things are made to be repeatedly submerged in boiling or near boiling water, so it should hold up to mashing temperatures.

I also bought some used Greenlee radio chassis punches off eBay. These punches were used to create the holes for mounting the HERMS coil (13/16”) and heating element (1 ¼”). The 13/16” Greenlee punch creates perfect sized holes for mounting ½” fittings which is what I’m using. The punches are really nice because they give you a perfectly round burr-free hole. They can be a little pricey if you buy them brand new, but if you’re patient you can usually find used ones on eBay for half the price of new.

All fittings on the HEX are weldless and are Blichmann-style as described on Kal’s site. If you’re considering doing something like this I highly recommend checking out Kal’s site first because he as some great information.

Drilling the Bain Marie Pot
Marking the pot for drilling
My design called for mounting the HEX input/output through the wall of the pot so I needed to drill a couple holes. Going through the side of the pot will allow the coil to drain better after each use. Compared to my original design, it will also allow for better clearance when attaching hoses or moving the temp probe from the startup position to the recirculation position.

I marked the pot 1.25 inches on vertical center from the top and bottom of pot. I started out with smaller bits then worked up to larger bits until I was able to use the 13/16” punch. If you haven’t drilled stainless steel before, it’s worth mentioning that it work hardens; the hotter it gets, the harder it gets. When drilling it’s important to go slow, use a fair amount of pressure, and use lubricant to keep it from heating up too much. 4-in-1 oil works well for this as does vegetable oil and I’ve heard of people also using motor oil.

Like my original build, the heating element will be mounted through the bottom of the pot. The bottom was drilled out like the side and the 1 ¼” punch was used to create the hole for the water heater element.

Mounting the Heating Element
Sink drain wrench
Due to space limitations, I mounted the heating element through the bottom of the pot rather than the side like in Kal’s HLT. Except for that, the mounting design is basically the same as Kal’s. Kal has great step by step directions on his site, so I won’t repeat them here. The key components are a 1” stainless nut, o-ring, washer, stainless double gang blank cover, double gang box, and an all-weather cover.

One thing I had to contend with was due to the shape of the pot there wasn't enough room to tighten the element nut with a regular wrench. This isn't an issue when you mount the element through the side of a pot. I ended up buying a sink drain wrench and modding it into a custom crowfoot-style wrench. I used my grinder to remove some material from the jaws to get it to fit the nut. I also trimmed off the excess where needed to get it to fit inside the pot. Th image to the left is what I ended up with and I must say that it gripped the nut very well and allowed me to really tighten it down.

Forming and Mounting the HERMS Coil
I decided to use copper tubing again for my HERMS coil. I was considering using stainless tubing but it is notoriously difficult to bend by hand without kinking; the tighter the radius the more difficult it is. Considering the relatively small diameter of my pot, even the copper was somewhat difficult to bend without kinking. I used 10 feet of ½” I.D. copper tubing and formed it in three stages. First was shaping it into a rough cylindrical-shaped coil. Next I wrapped the tubing around a mini crockpot to refine the shape and tighten it up a bit. Lastly I used a roll of duct tape to form an even tighter coil. There was some slight deformation of the tubing, but not too much and no kinks.

Ports for input/output
I used 90 degree elbows on the ends of the coiled tubing to transition to rigid copper pipe. Stainless compression fittings attach to the rigid pipe, which connect to stainless nipples to form the bulkhead. This is attached to the pot Kal/Blichmann style which forms a very solid and water tight connection. It’s also worth mentioning, I had to use an assortment of 45 degree fittings to clear the heating element at the bottom of the coil.

Miscellaneous Fittings and Final Assembly
Test fitting the coil
Pot filled with water and testing for leaks
The fittings on this project are by far the most expensive part. Stainless isn't cheap, but I think it’s worth it in this case. All the threaded fittings where wrapped in Teflon tape then everything was assembled and leak tested. I still need to order a 1/4" stainless fitting for the temp probe, but it's basically ready to use. Next week will be the inaugural brew using the new heat exchanger.

Sunday, March 03, 2013


Today I'm brewing up my first ever Lambic style beer. This is a sour style from Belgium and is the one that's responsible for getting me hooked on sour ales. I haven't made one before because Lambics take quite a while to mature...typically longer than a Flanders Red. That said, I'm so happy with the way my first Flanders Red turned out that I wanted to give this style a try. This will most likely end up a fruit lambic, but I'm not sure exactly which fruit yet...probably a kriek (cherries).

A lot of people are familiar with Lindemans line of lambics. Their fruit lambics are back-sweetened, and while I think they're really good it's not something that I intend to do. I will be using the Roeselare yeast blend instead of some of the other lambic blends. I've had great success with this blend so far and really like the flavor profile it develops.

Here's a link to the BJCP guidelines for the style.

Here's the recipe as I made it:

4.5 # Briess Pale Malt
3.0 # Weyermann Pilsener Malt
5.0 # Flaked Wheat
3.0 oz Aged Hops (90 min)
Rice Hulls (a couple handfuls)
0.5 t Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
1 Wyeast Roeselare Blend 3763 (no starter)

Dough in at 113F for 15 min. Raise temp to 122F for 15 minutes. Raise temp to 149F for 45 minutes. Raise to 158F for 30 minutes. Mash out at 169F.

90 minute boil.

As for ferm temps, it will be in the ferm chamber at 68F for a few weeks then will be moved to my utility room (around 68F seasonally) for aging. This will be fermented in a Better Bottle for the next year or so.

Brewing Notes
The original recipe called for 7.5 pounds of Pilsner malt; I thought I had enough on hand but ended up substituting 4.5 pounds of American 2 row. Other than that, everything went well. Efficiency on this batch was a hair over 85%. The starting gravity is 16.8P (1.069), very close to the Beersmith prediction of 1.068. The aged hops for this batch came from Hops Direct and are their Aged/Choice Debittered Hops which are Willamette. Here are a few pics of the brew session.
During the Mash
Notice the stainless scrubby for filtering the hops
3 ounces of aged hops
After the hop addition...looks like chile verde

Update 3/4/2013
I checked on the brew this morning before I went to work and there didn't appear to be any activity, but when I got home from work this evening there was a lot of krausen. The yeast blend was only a couple weeks old, so it was very fresh compared to the ones I used in Flanders #2 and #3.

Update 1/19/2014
I posted an update on several sours back in November, and this lambic has progressed nicely. I decided it was time to go ahead and get this on some fruit. I'm going to go ahead and split this batch with half going onto three pounds of red raspberries and the other half going onto 4.5 pounds of tart cherries. I picked up the raspberries in the frozen fruit section of the local Whole Foods. Trader Joe's or Wallyworld would have been cheaper but they only had berry blends in stock. I got the tart cherries in the frozen fruit section at Costco. I'm not sure if they always carry tart cherries but they had them at a really good price for $10/3lbs bag.

I want to get the fresh fruit character into this beer, so I'm not going to do the pasteurization method that I used for my Belgian Red. Instead I decided to sanitize the fruit with potassium metabisulfite. For both fruits, I dissolved 1/8 teaspoon of  potassium metabisulfite into about 1/4 cup water, then poured it over the fruit. I left it uncovered overnight, stirring periodically. This should kill of any wild bacteria and yeast on the fruit while ensuring I get that bright fresh fruit character.

Update 7/7/2014
I bottled the Framboise half about a week ago. I re-yeasted with Red Star Premier Cuvée to help ensure carbing/conditioning doesn't take too long. I used a fine mesh hop sack to try to filter out the raspberry leftovers but some still made it into the bottles. I was planning on entering this into a competition but now I'm not so sure. Hopefully it will settle into a nice compact sediment layer, but right now it doesn't look as good as I'd like for a competition.

Update 7/26/2015
I recently bought a pH meter for checking the pH of sours, also pH of the mash. The kriek half of this batch has been sitting in a 3 gallon keg for about a year. I was doing a bunch of bottling today, so I figured I'd check the pH. The reading came in at 3.13, a bit higher than I'd anticipated given how bracingly sour it was last year. The sourness has definitely rounded out a bunch; it's still very sour, but it's mellowed a lot. Color is also a bit of a darker red, almost burgundy compared to the pinkish red of a year ago.