Nitro Setup

>> Thursday, February 26, 2015

This first batch got a little over carb'd

Today I'm doing a little bit of an equipment write-up. I really like nitro beers and will often order a pint of Polygamy Porter or whatever else they might have on nitro when I go to The Bayou, my local favorite beer bar. There's just something about that creamy head and extra smooth mouthfeel that is really nice. Also, due to the reduced carbonation level, nitro beers tend to be less filling than traditional draft beer. As most of my friends will probably tell you, this post is long overdue. I've been promising them nitro beer on tap for a long time and it took me a while to work out the kinks, but I finally have a working setup.

I recently (five months ago is recent, right?) decided to move forward with my plans to have a nitro offering on tap. I had a stout faucet that I'd bought years ago, but until now I'd never gotten around to buying the rest of the equipment needed to complete my nitro setup. My original plan was pretty simple; get a spare tank, fill it with beergas (g-mix), and enjoy some nitro beers. Those plans ended up changing a bit along the way but I think I ended up with a pretty solid system.

The first thing I did was order a 40CF Nitrogen tank. I got mine from Scott R (a.k.a. ezryder) via Scott sells a variety of used tanks (CO2, O2, Nitrogen) all of which have current hydro stamps and are priced well below anything I could find locally. Scott was great to work with and shipped the tank before he'd even received my payment. I'd definitely order from Scott again. To contact Scott directly, email him at and remove the "nospam_" portion.

With tank in hand, I headed to my local Airgas store to get it filled with beergas. This is when I ran into my first hurdle. I had anticipated having to leave my tank since most gas suppliers won't fill beergas tanks on demand. The Airgas guys were very helpful but unfortunately they had to break the bad news to me; they wouldn't be able to fill my 40CF tank. I'd asked about beergas a while back (at least a year or two ago) and they said they could do it, but I neglected to ask if there were special conditions/requirements. In this case they indicated they were only able to fill the larger cylinders common in the restaurant/bar industry (120CF??). They were however willing to trade me straight across for either a 60CF tank of pure nitrogen or a 60CF 60% N2 / 40% CO2 gas blend. I knew the 60/40 blends weren't recommended for nitro beers as they tended to over carbonate the beer. The other option of using straight Nitrogen was less than ideal because of the opposite issue...under-carbonated flat beer as you progress through the keg. So I had to figure out a plan B.

It just so happened that I'd been looking at some gas blenders on ebay. Gas blenders mix gas on the fly which means you hook up a CO2 tank and a Nitrogen tank to the blender and out comes the perfect blend for serving nitro beers. The pro's are nitrogen and CO2 are cheaper to purchase separately than in a blend, and the blenders are designed to provide the ideal ratio for nitrogen beers. The con is these things are freaking expensive...usually anywhere from $600 to $1200 for the cheaper models.  Sometimes you can find really good deals on used ones, which is what I was counting on for my plan B. So I decided to take the Airgas guys up on their offer to trade tanks and crossed my fingers in hopes of getting my hands on an affordable blender.

As I mentioned, I'd seen a couple used blenders on ebay. After missing out on the first one (Trumix TM100) I managed to win a Micromatic MM200. This blender is able to dispense two different blends, one for Nitro beers and one for non-Nitro Ales/Lagers. The ratios for each are Nitro = 75% N2 / 25% CO2 and Ales/Lagers = 30% N2 / 70% CO2. The Ale/Lager blend is really intended for long draw systems to keep from over carbonating the beer. That isn't a concern on my setup so I won't be using the Ale/Lager blend at all.

So now I had my stout faucet, my original CO2 tank, my 60CF Nitrogen tank, and my MM200 gas blender. I still needed a Nitrogen regulator and a couple secondary regulators. The secondary regulators are needed because the blender requires relatively high pressures, so one is used to reduce the pressure of the CO2 going to my non-nitro beer, and the other is used to step down the pressure ofmthe CO2/N2 blend for the nitro tap. I was lucky to find some regulators at a local store that deals in surplus and salvaged equipment (e.g. freight damaged goods). The secondary regulators were both brand new in box model 8011's from Micromatic. The price seemed great at $30 each. This is where I ran into another hurdle. I hooked everything up only to find one of the regulators was defective. After a lot of time spent troubleshooting, I took the defective regulator back and exchanged it for another one. This one also turned out to be defective (safety valve leaked). I headed back to the store to exchange it again and this time I got a good one. On the plus side, everything in the store was on sale for 50% off, so they refunded me $15 on the exchange.

Next up I pressure tested the whole system and this is when I ran into my last hurdle. The mixer and all the tubing connecting the various components tested fine, but as soon as I connected the keg, it would bleed down to about 20PSI overnight. The nitro beers are typically dispensed between 35 and 45 PSI, so this was definitely a problem; bad pours plus gas leaking to the atmosphere. The challenge with this kind of leak is it's so slow it's really hard to detect. Adventures in Homebrewing came to the rescue in the form of a sale...brand new ball lock kegs for $75. That wasn't far off from the going rate on used kegs, and I'd really wanted to get a few more kegs ever since upgrading my keezer from three to five taps, so I went ahead and pulled the trigger on a couple.  With a new keg in hand, I used a jumper to transfer from the old keg to the new one and thankfully it held pressure just fine.

To sum things up, I ended up spending a bit more than I'd originally planned, but I ended up with a pretty nice nitro setup. I may not always have a nitro beer on tap, but I'll probably have one in the regular rotation. I'm looking forward to trying out beers besides stouts on English Bitter...perhaps an IPA. Anyway, here are a few pics of the various components and how I put things together.

First up below is the stout faucet. As you can see, it's much more...stout :) than the regular faucet. Something to consider when building a coffin for your keezer and you want to make sure you have enough room to pour.

Next up is the gas mixer. There's a nitrogen in port and a CO2 in port. If either gas runs out, the unit shuts off the flow of the blend. The tee on the CO2 in runs a line over to the CO2 secondary for dispensing non-nitro beers. I tend to run mine around 12 PSI.

The last pic shows the secondary regulators mounted on the board to the left of the mixer. I'm currently serving nitro beers at about 40 PSI. You do have to carb the beer to a little over one volume before dispensing on nitro. This first keg got a little over carb'd, so the first couple pours were a little too foamy. They eventually settled down to the nice dense creamy head associated with nitro beers, but it took a minute or two.

Stout faucet compared to regular faucet
The gas mixer
Secondary regulators


Flanders Red #4

>> Sunday, February 15, 2015

Almost a boilover
Today I'm getting started on Flanders Red #4. I recently bottled #3 and realized I didn't have another Red in the pipeline. I also just recently filled my Solera sanke, so that means I have three empty Better Bottles waiting for sours.

Matt " Dr. Lambic" Miller recently made an appearance on Basic Brewing Radio as well as The BN's Sour Hour. The recipe I'm brewing today is a 10 gallon batch based on his Sour Red Ale recipe/process. Matt's blog is very well written so for anyone interested in brewing sours, I'd recommend checking it out in addition to the two podcasts.

I'll be taking five gallons and following his process more or less, and the other five will be fermented the way I've traditionally done my Flanders Reds with Roeselare cakes from Lambic #3 and Flanders Red #3. This will hopefully give me one that will be ready in the next couple months, plus another about a year from now. Here's the recipe as I made it. For more details on Matt's process, please refer to

10.0 # Dingemans Pilsner
6.0 # Rahr White Wheat Malt
3.0 # Weyermann Carawheat
2.0 # Weyermann Rye Malt
0.5 # Crisp Light Crystal
0.5 # Briess Special Roast
56g Aged hops (mash hops)
1.0 Whirlfloc
Wyeast yeast nutrient
Roeselare yeast cakes for first 5 gallons
WLP677 Lactobacillus delbrueckii initial pitch in 2nd 5 gallons
WLP007 Dry English Ale Yeast pitched into 2nd 5 gallons after one week
WLP653 Brettanomyces lambicus pitched into 2nd 5 gallons after primary

Mash at 130F for 15 min, mash at 158F for 45 min, 90 minute boil.

I'm going to do my fermentation a little bit different than Matt. I'm about to head out of town so I'm going to let my lacto go for a week at room temperature rather than two to four days at 110F. This approach has worked very well with my Berliners so I'm hoping that will be the case with this beer as well.

Update 2/23/2015
Got back into town last night and checked on these beers. The Roeselare half had started blowing off before I left town, so I already had a blowoff hose set up. This one definitely is experiencing a vigorous fermentation. The other half that only has lactobacillus had about a 3/8" krausen when I left. Last night it showed signs of pushing up into the airlock but not blowing completely through. I pulled a sample and it seemed like it had some tartness, but it's hard to tell because there's still a lot of residual sweetness. I'm going to move this into my fermentation fridge and dial the heat up a bit for a couple days.

Update 3/9/2015
I pitched the Brett L tonight. I forgot to post when I pitched the WLP007, but it was about at the 2 week mark. I still wasn't able to detect much tartness at that point but the gravity had dropped a bit and I was afraid to let it go any longer. I've had problems getting Lacto D to sour, so I'm hoping this one works out.

Update 3/26/2015
I pulled a sample of the Lacto D version last night and I'm happy to say it has quite a bit of sourness. There's also something a little odd going on. The best way I can describe it is there's a slightly smokey component, both flavor and aroma. I'm hoping this subsides over time.


Golden Java Chocolate Milk Stout

>> Saturday, February 07, 2015

A while back on one of The Sunday Session shows they were talking about Anomaly Milk Stout from Faction Brewing. It sounded like a really interesting beer and considering it's closer in color to a pale ale, it definitely defies the style guidelines. I haven't had a chance to try Anomaly, but right after Christmas we traveled to SoCal and I got to try Naughty Sauce from Noble Ale Works. I loved this beer and it was the inspiration to try to brew something similar.

For this recipe I'm using a blend of coffee from Jack Mormon Coffee Co (JMCC), one of our local roasters. By the way, the name of this company has always made me laugh. If you don't know what a Jack Mormon is, google it. I'll be using equal parts La Providencia and CuarenteƱo from JMCC, per the cold steeping process found on the AHA website. I'm also using TCHO Roasted Cacao Nibs and a vanilla bean to create a tincture, The Drew Way, that will also be used in this beer. The end goal is a beer that will taste roasty with some residual sweetness, but that maintains a much lighter golden color compared to a traditional milk stout.

Since I may pick up some bitterness from the coffee and the nibs, I'm keeping the IBUs fairly low on this beer. Also, since my water is fairly hard, I'm using about three gallons of RO water in the HLT (10.5 gallons total to begin with). This is something I always do when I'm brewing a lighter colored beer. Here's the recipe as I'm making it:

8.5# Fawcett Pearl Malt
10 oz Flaked Oats
0.5# Dingemans Crystal 45
14g Magnum (60 min)
1.0# Lactose (10 min)
14g US Goldings (10 min)
28g US Goldings (0 min)
0.5 Whirlfloc
Yeast nutrient
WLP001 Cali Ale

Mash at 154F for 80 minutes, 90 minute boil, ferment at 65F.

Make tincture and coffee toddy and dose to taste at packaging time.

Brewing Notes
No issues to speak of. The color was pretty light. That's good because it will definitely pick up some color from the toddy and the tincture.

Update 2/11/2015
Fermentation is progressing as expected. I started on the tincture with the vanilla bean. This will go for about a week before adding the cacoa nibs to the tincture. I got an email from the AHA last night indicating I got all three NHC entries that I requested. If this one turns out as expected, I'll be submitting it to the competition.

Update 2/15/2015
I added the TCHO Roasted Nibs to the tincture yesterday. It smells awesome today. I can't believe I haven't tried this process sooner.

Update 2/25/2015
I went ahead and kegged this beer tonight. I went with the full volume coffee toddy (2 oz by weight of coffee into 16 oz RO water) as described in the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Zymurgy. Based on the aroma coming out of the keg, I think it's safe to say this was a good starting point. For the chocolate tincture, I decided to start with 2 oz. I'll let this beer carb up and give it a taste test.

Update 3/27/2015
This beer turned out really well and is in the running for a club collaboration brew with Epic Brewing's The Annex. It didn't have quite as much chocolate character as I thought it would, but the coffee flavors and aroma are just about perfect; definitely noticeable, but the base beer comes through. I was thinking about entering this beer for NHC, but it wasn't quite ready in time to ship.

Update 5/9/2015
Went to Cali this past week and stopped by Noble. The Noble version is definitely less sweet than this one. I'm going to try tweaking this recipe a bit...for starters I'd scale back the lactose to somewhere between .5 and .75 # and the crystal to about .25#. The coffee character is about right. And just to reiterate, this won't be an exact clone, but it's pretty similar.

Update 11/22/2015
I re-brewed this recipe on 11/6/2015. A couple differences, I used Rahr base malt, cut back the lactose to .75#, and used Sierra Juarez and CuarenteƱo from JMC.

Update 11/24/2015
Just stumbled across some updates to this thread on HBT with info from the brewers at Noble:
Good morning! For Naughty Sauce, no the coffee beans are not golden in color. If you use 2-4oz of fresh roasted ground coffee per 5 gallons, after fermentation, you'll get some deliciousness without a huge color pickup. You'll want to make the beer as light as possible because there is a little bit of a color pick up. For recipe tips, keep the IBU's in the 20's, add a bit of honey malt for flavor, use lots of oats and lactose to fill out the body. Our starting gravity is in the 1.050's. Good luck!