Category Archives: procedure

Building a sleeve to my chest freezer: A. K. A. having the best retired dad ever!

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One of the most challenging aspects of homebrewing is temperature control.  There are many DIY ways to control fermentation temperature, but using a chest freezer with a temperature control themostat is really the best.  Once this system is running, space becomes the limiting factor.  I’ve had this chest freezer for over a year, but finally expanded it to hold 6 kegs.  I really can’t wait to start my lager brew days!  A billion thanks to my  retired father for assembling such an awesome expansion of the freezer.  Here is what he did, in his own words.

Written By John Lovrich (my dad)

    To raise the height of a chest freezer, you basically make a box around the outside diameter of the freezer to reach the desired height. The one I made was made with 1″ by 8″ clear cedar boards cut to the correct lengths. An extra length was cut to connect to the inside of the side in which the freezer hinge was to be attached creating a rabbit joint. This piece is attached to the outside piece with 1″ stainless wood screws making it stronger and permitting the back section to be attached from the back and the side. After the wood has been cut , apply four coats of spar varnish to all sides.
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 Light sanding is required between each coat, but in the end, a well sealed frame has been made protecting against moisture and mold. 2″ stainless steel screws were used to attach all the pieces, but remember to pre-drill the holes so the wood doesn’t split.
Once the wood is thoroughly dried, assemble the frame and be sure it fits properly on the freezer.
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If all is okay, attach Super-Tuff R insulation board to the inside of the item. Be sure that the aluminum vapor barrier is facing into the freezer. Do not glue the insulation board because the varnish prohibits good bonding. Attach the insulation board to the wood by using 1″ #8 stainless pan head screws with the largest stainless washers available. Insert screws at all four corners and across the top and bottom every 10 to 12 inches apart. Once completed, buy a roll of foil tape and seal the top and bottom of pacer by folding the tape and covering the top of the insulation board, extending down the board about a 1/2 inch and stretching across the top and attaching to the wood. This creates a nice seal. But be careful, the tape is very sticky and once it is on, it is on. Do a dry run without removing the backing paper before you assemble. You only get one shot when assembling.
To attach the spacer to the freezer, buy a roll of industrial grade velcro. The freezer door must be disconnected by this time. This material is also extremely sticky. This material is attached to the freezer side as well as to the bottom of the spacer. Again, I advise doing a dry run with the velcro before final assembly. Place the velcro on the freezer first, and then after it is placed on the bottom of the spacer, carefully drop in place a press down for a few seconds. That’s it. The spacer is firmly attached. Place the freezer door on top of the spacer and be sure it is alined. Make sure the hinge is flush to the wood, pre-drill the holes and attach with 1″ #8 pan head screws, or larger or smaller if necessary. Drill any holes for the tubing to be used from the outside toward the inside. Use a thin paint brush to coat the inside of the hole just drilled with spar varnish. The spacer is now complete and ready for use.
WOW! what a guy!

DAD

DAD

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The sour beer experiment cometh..

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Recently I have begun souring beer, which is a simple process of inoculating (infecting) beer with specific micro organisms that like living in beer.  So far, I have soured left over beer that was less than perfect, like my earl wit that had a bit too much gypsum and a poor fermentation. I decided to repurpose this beer into a Lambic.  I have also started souring my casks, starting with quad/ homemade wine into a rye cask with Roeselare Blend from Wyeast.

Now, repurposing beer is cool, and a great way to start souring beers, but I have way too many questions about the variables in souring to just use my leftovers for this.  It was time to brew a 10 gallon batch of Flanders Brown Ale. The brew day was easy for this beer, all until I transferred the cooled wort into all the different fermentors.

So, what am I going to do with all this beer to sour!? that’s right, use up every one gallon jug i can find.  To start off I took 5 gallons and put it into a normal 6 gallon better bottle carboy, which I pitched American Ale  yeast . This 5 gallon fermentor will be inoculated with Roeselare Blend after fermentation is complete.

VARIABLES!

The rest of the batch left plenty of room to play with, so I split up the beer into 1 gallon jugs and labeled them 1,2,3 and X, Y.  Y is the clean fermented beer that will act as the baseline for comparison (control).  1 was only Brett L, 2 was only Brett B, 3 was yeast and Brett B pitched simultaneously, and X will be Brett L added after regular yeast fermentation.  I also used a growler for my wild yeast, which will have US05 added after 3 weeks fermenting.

The beers with only Brett fermentation was very interesting to watch.  Brett L seems to be the same micro that infected my Earl Wit.  The Brett B fermentation looked crazy for about a week, then everything flocculated.

Brett L infection

Brett B infection

1L : brett L 2B: brett B

Now it’s a long wait to start bottling/ blending. which will take about a year!

brewing on a budget….

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This last year has been a great time for my brewing.  I won my first homebrew competition, which gave me a real kick in the butt to brew more frequently.  Since that competition I have been brewing weekly, sometimes working on beer 3 times a week.  Its been about 5 – 6 months of that schedule and I have spent all my money. As you can tell, slowing down my brewing is an answer to my problem, but I find a great amount of joy playing with my beer, so I’ve decided to knock back the brewing schedule to every other week and start saving money wherever I can.

With my science background, I’m planning on saving yeast and making slides, but I’m broke enough that an autoclave (pressure cooker!) is out of the question right now. This leads me to the cheapest/easiest way to save money on brewing, reusing yeast.  All I do is put the newly made beer directly on top of an old batches yeast cake.  I always make sure that the cake is as fresh as possible and never leave the yeast without beer in it for more than an hour or so.  I know this is tremendously over pitching the yeast… but whatever, its easy and the fast fermentation is wonderful!

I have also been reading/listening up a lot on no sparge brewing (video link).  No sparge brewing is a process commonly used for lower ABV beers that could use a better malt backbone.  In this process, you use all the water you need for your brew day in the mash tun, vorloft it well, and drain the entire mash tun into a brew kettle.  You lose some efficiency, but it makes for a wonderful beer (which I will soon find out!)

While I was listening to this method, I thought of a way to still use the extra sugars in the mash tun, make a partygyle brewday out of this process.  After I brew a no sparge batch, I simply add another 3 -4 lbs of grain (sometimes specialty grains) to the mash tun at the mashing temp and let it go through another conversion.  This second mash usually lasts about 2 hours, since I have been only using my 7.5 gallon kettle for inside brews and i have to wait to get the first beer out of the brew kettle.

The results of this process have been promising.  After 2 brew days, I have been able to get 4 different 5 gallon batches for the grain normally used to make 2 gallon batches.  Is the original gravity lower on all 4? sure! But with OG’s in the 1.040 range, i am more than content with having a few 4 – 5 % ABV beers coming down the pipeline.

This leads me to my last option to save money. STOP BREWING BIG BEERS.  Usually my beer all hover in between 6 and 10 % ABV.  ya know, I make strong beer! But with my goal being lower ABV beer, my bills are remarkably smaller, usually walking out of the homebrew store with a bill for less than $40.  That means I making beer at about 40 cents a beer.  Its weird, but it seems that I can finally make great beer that is cheaper than buying commercial beers! It only took about 6 years of brewing to do it, but my original goal was to make good beer cheaply. and now I have.

More on these beers to come!

the purrfect ipa

The Souring of a Cask

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Which one shall I choose?

One of the most fantastic rewards of having casks to play with is the ability to make sour beers.  A cask is the perfect vessel to keep micro organism cultures happy.  There is always a little oxygen sneaking into casks and our friends Lactobacillus and Peddiococcus love that.  In many ways, preventing them from developing in casks can be an exercise in futility, but I am taking steps in three casks (Scotch Casks, Blaton’s Bourbon cask, and Evan Williams bourbon cask) which will be a future post.  One of my casks, the rye cask, has been giving off some winey characteristics in the beers aging and I felt like it was about time to push this one over the edge.

A while back, I made a beer based off of a Westvelren 12 Quad.  I have 5 gallons currently lagering for eternity… planning on waiting until December (12 months old) to pull it out at taste it. I also had 1.5 extra gallons of the base quad that was fermented separately from the other 5 gallons using Chardonnay yeast.  Both beers clock in around 11.5 % ABV.  I wasn’t planning on souring this beer, but i am finished looking at this beer sitting, I MADE IT TO EXPERIMENT DAMMIT!

The next part of this cask souring experience comes from an endeavor that was way to long in the making.  The Homemade wine, Pony Vino, that my room-mate Tom and I made about a year ago was finally bottled a few weeks ago.  The wine is okay, kinda like a sweet red, but drinkable.

Wait....How many ml are in 5 gallons?

Unfortunately, when we bottled the wine, my math was stupid and I ran out of wine bottles with about a gallon left over…

Then my worlds came together in a fantastic moment of clarity. The wine went right into the Quad, followed with a good 3 ounces of Fantome De Noel

yum yum yum

a splendid beer that was a gift my friend Degal gifted me.

The fermentor bubbled for two weeks before I got around to playing with the casks, so I’m counting on micro’s munching away in there.  I’m planning on pitching a commercial bought micro blend within the week to throw into the cask as well.

So far, things are pretty crazy on this beer, but was I done? no way!  Every summer, there is this totally awesome fig tree that grows in my neighbor’s backyard, and no one EVER picks the figs.  This last summer I felt like it was a duty of mine to do something more with those lovely fruits than simply feed the birds, so I picked about a pound and froze them.  I had planned to put them into the Quad when it was done fermenting, but I left in the freezer until now.  I also had 2 packages of Blackberries frozen, so I just put them all together into this project.

I defrosted the fruit, cooked them for about 15 min, mushing them up the whole time, and then blended them in my blender.  Once they cooled, I tossed the puree into the cask after the beer.

messy messy messy

I think I have been reading the madfermentationist way to much lately, but I’m very excited about where this beer will go.  Updates to come!

The Great Heat Wand

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Being stuck in Brooklyn in a third floor walk up has really hindered my ability to brew 10 gallon batches of beer.  I do have a propane setup and a back yard (more like a cement pit) but i have to walk up and down the stairs way too many times, and then walk around my block to get to the back yard.  I’ve done it a couple of times, but I tell ya, carrying all that beer, all that equipment, and dealing with the yummy in my tummy, have all contributed to me having bad experiences with the whole outside brew day approach.
doing a test run!
Frustration can be the biggest turn off about brewing in Brooklyn (yeessss) but luckily solutions can come from all different areas.  An answer for my problem once again came from BASIC BREWING RADIO, which I think is one of the best resources I have found on the Internet.  They did a whole episode on electric brewing a few years back and in the video section, they got to play with a portable heat wand .
check under electric brewing april 29 2010
A heat wand sounds nightmarish and dangerous, but, after researching, I found out that there are really only a few things scary about it, and those are posted very clearly on a BYO article on the bottom. (here is another helpful link,  http://www.3d0g.net/brewing/heatstick) So I decided to build one with the help of my very handy friend,BULLWINKEL

ME and BULLWINKEL

The set up was really simple honestly. Just follow the directions found on the website (http://www.3d0g.net/brewing/heatstick)  and everything comes together very well.  I was unsure what to do with the ground wire, but i simply cut it and taped it very well with electrical tape.

now that is a rolling boil!

Using this is wonderful.  For a 10 gallon batch, my stove top simply couldn’t maintain a boil, but when I use the heat wand, my boil is a vigorous as a propane brew day, and I usually boil off about 2 gallons in a 60 min brew.  This tool is also wonderful for heating up mash water and striking water.  Without the wand, my burners raises temp at about 2.7 degrees per minute.  but with the heat wand, its about 3.3 deg/min.  which adds up very quickly when making these big batches.
In summary: while I was scared in the beginning, doing 10 gallon batches is absolutely fantastic and is really allowing for experimentation in my brewery (apartment).  This is one of best investments i have made in my brewing lifetime. you should do it!