Archive for May, 2011

Hey! Like our new trick?

Photos Around the Gardens 5/30/11




More Basil

The Main Show

Could that actually be carrots?


More Peas

Drowing in a sea of lettuce

Squash beds some corn and pole beans mixed in too.


Not everything is edible in our gardens, some are for show.


More show

How do you bottle?

Here is my process for bottling, I find it very easy and relaxing and a bit enjoyable with the music going and a tasty beverage in hand.

Rule 1
The first rule of bottle club is to keep your bottles clean. I make sure I rinse my bottle after I pour my beer into a mug. I pour some water in and swirl it around then dump it. I repeat. I hold the bottle up to a light and peer in (without managing to drink with my eyeball ala Greg) to see I got all the sediment out. If there is stuff stuck in it, I will put a few grains of Oxiclean into the bottle and fill with hot water to sit on the counter for a few days. I repeat the process and use a bottle brush to get the rest out. If the bottle is clean after I rinse it, I put it upside down in the dish strainer to dry for a few days. My bottles then go into a half rack box which is closed and stored in my basement brewery area. I still get mold or gunk sometimes but a lot less than I used to.

Just some numbers to start:
5 gallons of beer is 128 oz/gallon * 5 gallons =

    640 0z or 18,927.0589 ml

12 oz bottles = ~54 bottles
15.2 oz Flip tops = ~43 bottles
22 oz Bombers = ~29 bottles
750 ml Belgians = ~26 bottles
2 L Growlers = ~10 bottles

I usually do 12 ozers so 2 cases and a 6 pack usually does most batches. But with some math you can figure out how many you need ahead of time. My secret cleaning weapon is my dishwasher. I check the inside and clean to trap, then one by one, I peer up into the bottle holding it towards a light to look for any signs of crud. If clean, I put it upside down on a tine in the dishwasher rack until I get all my bottles in. I put 1 tablespoon of Oxiclean in and set it for heat dry, hot water, pots and pans scrub. (note, you should remove your loose labels as you drink your beer, the condensation makes it easier and they won’t get clogged in the dishwasher trap or fall onto the heaters in the dishwasher and burn). This cycle takes a few hours so I can set a delay the night before or have my wife turn it on mid afternoon for a night bottle session.

I like to do at least one clear bottle each time. I put this bottle on a shelf in the kitchen so I can watch the sediment build up and the beer clear.

T minus 1 day
A day before I bottle (at least) I bring my carboy of beer upstairs and place it on a free counter space.

I use Iodophor for my sanitizing at a rate of 1 tsp per 1.5 gallons so I usually do 3 gallons of sanitize mixture in a rubbermaid bin. While mixing this I have 1 pint of water heating up on the stove. I use about 5 oz of priming sugar for a 5 gallon batch but will change up or down to suit the beer. Once the water is boiling, I stir in the priming sugar and let it boil for 10-15 minutes. While waiting for the boil time my bottle bucket, spigot and bottle filler are soaking in the sanitizer. After a couple minutes I put the spigot and bottle filler on the bucket and set it on the counter. I pour some sanitizer in and open the valve and release the filler spring so the sanitizer flows through the setup back into the rubbermaid bin. I empty the remaining sanitizer and set the bucket upside down and begin sanitizing my autosiphon and vinator. I sponge the tines of my bottle tree with sanitizer.

By the time this is done, the priming solution is ready. I pour it into the bucket and cover it with a clean towel and move on to the bottles.

Time to suck
My carboy with beer has been sitting on the counter since the night before. I place a folded up towel under the front end to slightly elevate one side.

I set my vinator onto the tree and grab a bottle in my left hand and depress the vinator for 2-3 squirts into the bottle. As I do this, my right hand grabs another bottle and I peek into the bottle holding it up to a light to check for crud yet again. Left hand places the sanitized bottle onto the bottle tree and grabs the bottle from the right hand and I repeat 54 times. My tree does not hold all the bottles so I put the remaining ones in the dishwasher lower shelf. Now I am ready to bottle.

It takes many hands
Well, only two but multitasking helps speed things up. I put 54 bottle caps in a fresh well of sanitizer in my vinator. I set the bottle bucket up directly over the door to my dishwasher so drips are caught in it. I grab a bottle off the bottle tree and put it under the bottle filler with my right hand and open the valve. I use bright lighting so I can see inside the deep brown bottles for the fill level. Once the beer is at the top of the bottle, I drop the bottle down to stop the beer flow and remove the bottle. In the meantime, my left hand has the next bottle ready. As soon as the full bottle comes off the filler, the next empty one goes under and I begin filling. I set the full bottle far off to my left and pull a bottle cap out of the vinator and set it over the bottle. I repeat 54 times. The last 4 bottles or so require grabbing the bucket and tilting it towards the filler so you don’t suck up a bunch of air. 54 bottles sit before me with caps sitting on top. I grab my capper and start capping, placing the capped bottle into a half rack or case box. Just about done.

Clean up
I try to leave the kitchen in better shape than I found it. I fill up the dishwasher, wipe down the counters, wipe down the floors and the fronts of cabinets, even if I didn’t spill a drop. To clean my bottle bucket, I use the sink sprayer to spray hot water on all surfaces and if there is crud (very rare) I use a sponge dedicated to my beer equipment. Every time my wife needs a new sponge for the sink, she takes my beer sponge and I get a new one. I set a towel on the counter and place the bucket upside down over it. I remove the filler and spigot and run hot water through both and sponge as needed; onto the drying towel as well. I fill a glass with hot water and pump the autosiphon in it to run the water through it. I remove the hose and run water through it. I hang it over the sink to dry. I set the autosiphon parts onto the drying towel. I clean and rinse the airlock. I rinse the vinator. All onto the drying towel. I empty the rubbermaid bin and rinse it with hot water and again sponge it off and then onto the drying towel. I spray some hot water into the fermenter, swirl it around enough to break up the flocculants and dump it all into my compost bin outside. I rinse it out with a little more water. I begin filling it up with hot water and add 1 tablespoon of Oxiclean. I fill it all the way up and leave it for a day.

I place my bottled beer in a corner of the dining room for the next 2-3 weeks to carb up.

The next day, I invert the carboy over the sink to drain it out. I spray inside it a hot water rinse and inspect it. On a rare occasion I find some crud the Oxiclean didn’t handle. I stuff a facecloth in, add some more water and swirl it around until it scrubs off. Then I remove the facecloth and rinse again. I leave the carboy inverted in the sink to dry off.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks!
And there you have my easy peasey bottle day. I left out the tunes and beverages, I figure you can figure that out yourself.

Let me know if I missed anything and anything that you do different.

Gentlemen, start your freezers.

My lager is beginning the slow drop in temperature on the way to lagering. I’ll drop it 2C every day until around 2-4 C for the next 4 weeks.

Rewind Part 2

I forgot a couple of things on my rewind post so I thought I put them up.

Primary only
Don’t bother with a secondary. Later, you may have some more complicated beer that requires a secondary but the vast majority of beers do well with only a primary. The less you handle your beer, the less chance of something going wrong with it, even more so as a beginner.

Give your yeast time to clean up after itself. Yes, you can get a beer into bottles in a couple of weeks. But you have a better chance of putting good beer into those bottles if you let them sit several weeks after fermentation. I try to go 4 weeks from yeast pitch to bottling. I could adjust for different beers but I just keep it simple.

Timed Temperature
If you have difficulty holding your fermentation temperatures, realize you only need to have control for the first stages of fermentation. After a week, the temperature rising won’t matter the yeasts won’t be forming esters after the krausen has settled down. Of course Kolsch, Altbier, and lagers will need the cold later, but even those can be in primary at room temps after the main fermentation is complete.

I don’t keg and I don’t have plans to. If I had a ton of money, I might consider it. But right now, I can go in my cellar and choose from a wide variety of beers. And I can toss together a mix pack to go anywhere at anytime. If I had to have a keg for each one of those types of beers…

I don’t mind bottling at all. I have a process down and it takes me less than 2 hours from start to finish. It is relaxing. I have music or podcasts going and the time breezes by. Kegging also adds another layer, another skill set to master. I’d rather focus on other things for the time being. I can’t afford to get a setup and that is just fine with me.

Don’t worry, be happy
Care about exactly one opinion of your beers: yours. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Sure, it feels good to get compliments on your beers, but in the end, this is your hobby so you are the only one that matters. Everyone’s tastes are different. I love feta cheese, not so many people do. Like feta, if you like your dill pickle ale, then good for you.

First Homebrew Contest Entry

My first homebrew competition entry went in today. I entered my Cacao Caliente in category Porter. First prize is an overnight in Nantucket and a brew session with Cisco Brewery…that would be nice!


I’ve met some new brewers and spoken with some on forums recently. It got me thinking what it was like to be a noob at homebrewing…tehcnically for the second time. I brewed many many years ago and just took it up again a few years ago. Wow, did things change or what? Anyways, I was thinking how nice it would have been to be guided on what direction to take when I started out. There are so many choices it is overwhelming. Here are my thoughts for a noob.

Check out the forums. Do the three Ls: LURK, LEECH, LISTEN. You are a noob, you have a million questions. Try to find out the answers yourself before you ask a billion questions on a forum. When you do ask a question, be clear and to the point. If you did the three Ls for a while, you’ll know if a responder is giving you good advice or note. Don’t let all the information swamp your brain. Remember that you are a beginner. Ride the tricycle for a while. You’ll make better beer earlier in your hobby than someone who jumps into the deep end, tackling every new trend within 6 months of brewing. You have plenty of time to master your hobby. Slow and easy wins this race. Keep the cinnamon banana black hefeweizen recipe idea until you understand how to brew a decent hefeweizen first, how much cinnamon to use in a batch second, how to get the best banana flavor in a beer third, and lastly how to make a beer black without affecting flavor. Your mouth will thank you. Really. Brew the basics first. You don’t realize how many off flavors are being hidden by brewing big flavored beers. Once you can brew a light pale ale without off flavors you’ll be able to brew bigger beers better.

Stick with extract for a while.
All grain is fun and ends up being a goal for most brewers. But. There are so many new skills to learn, why not leave mashing until you’ve gotten good at some of the basics? You can make really good beer with extract so you get to drink good beer while you master the basics. There are some great extract kits for every type of beer you can imagine out there. There are loads of extract recipes online and in books. You can use software to convert all grain to extract recipes. And the quality of extract is top notch these days.

Get this down pat. Learn how to clean and how to sanitize and understand the difference between the two. You really don’t have to go nutty on it, but you need to become thorough with it.

I use no name OxiClean unscented for my cleaning. It rips through anything I’ve encountered homebrewing. I use it 1 tablespoon to 5 gallons of hot water. I’ll fill up my carboy after fermenting and let it sit on the counter for a day or so and the krausen magically sloughs off. On bottle day I put a tablespoon in my dishwasher and set it on heat dry and superscrub mode.

I use Iodophor for my sanitizing. Iodine has been used forever for sterlizing in the medical field so it has a good long track record. It is also soft metal friendly so you don’t have to worry about your copper wort chiller or aluminum pot. I can also see it and smell it in my water. It doesn’t keep as long as others such as StarSan but it is cheap, effective, and easy to use so I’ll stick with it.

Dry yeast
Stick with the dry yeast for a while. It will limit you a bit on the styles of beers you can brew, but again you can master other skills first before you tackle starters. US-05 is a great yeast that will brew any ale requiring a clean taste. Nottingham can do the same if it is fermented cold or you can add fruity esters if it is fermented a little warmer. Fermentis T-58 is your go to for Belgian beers. I can’t comment on other dry yeasts but I am sure there are some more decent ones.

Rock your carboy or bucket for oxygenation or make a venturi in your siphon for now, learn oxygen later.

Partial Boil
Moving to full boil is an important big step but stick with partial boils to start with. You’ll need a wort chiller (or do no chill) once you make the jump, so again, keep it simple for a while and learn the basics. With partial boils, you can do kitchen brewing. Things inside are cleaner and the volumes you deal with are lower making it easier to handle.

Temperature Control
This would be my first thing to focus on. Whether it be a swamp cooler or a full on fermentation chamber, proper ferment temperature can seal the deal. Take a great recipe brewed expertly and ferment it at whatever temperatures your room fluctuates to and you are asking for a lousy beer. The first time I controlled my temperature there was an amazing difference in my beers. I cannot stress it enough, get your temperatures in check or brew beers that fit your environment.

I went for quite a while using a plastic bin filled with water and the carboy or bucket in it. I swapped out frozen jugs of water morning and night and found the temperatures to hold in the low 60s, perfect for ales. In the winter, my basement is cold so I swapped the ice jugs out for an aquarium heater where I could hold the temperature where I wanted it. I could have gone on with this forever, in fact I still use the bin sometimes.

Then came the temperature controller. Another great step in beer quality. I built my own controller from an STC 9000 unit you can find cheap on ebay. Heating and cooling all in one digital unit. I hooked mine up to a freezer I got for free on Craigslist. My heat circuit goes to the aquarium heater. I still use the bin full of water in the bottom of the freezer as it makes a nice heat sink to hold temperatures better. My sensor sits in the water bath. Now I can, and am doing lagers!

Don’t fret about hydrometer readings. Do your best at your brew and take readings but don’t get nutty about it. You’ll make good beer. I take my readings and they are what they are, I record them and later I can learn from them. In All Grain they become a bit more important, but again, they usually are what they are and you’ll make beer.

I bought into the refractometer craze and I think this is one I could have passed on and been just fine. It is nice to use so little wort to get a quick reading on unfermented wort. But since it isn’t useful for fermented wort anyways, the cheap old hydrometer is fine.

Get your kits from the online homebrew stores, their turnover is huge so you’ll get fresh ingredients. They all make some great kits and they usually come with great instructions. When you are comfortable with brewing put together ingredients from a recipe in a book or online. Then move on to coming up with your own recipes based on your experience and what you learn from forums, books, homebrew buddies, or wherever else you get your knowledge from.

Keep good notes on everything you do. Get a log book or keep a notebook. Whatever you do, track everything you do. The recipes, the goals, the actual readings, EVERYTHING. It will all be useful at a later date. You’ll be able to avoid or reproduce something you did at some point in the future. Again WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING YOU DO!

Full Boil
When you are comfortable brewing, move up to full boils. You’ll most likely move outside on a turkey burner with a large kettle. Get as big a kettle as you can, you’ll use it later for all grain. If you can’t get a keggle size vessel, that’s okay, the smaller kettles are useful later too. I’d say 7 gallons is the minimum, but you can get around having a smaller one.

You’ll want to either go no chill or build/buy a wort chiller at this point. A sink of ice water isn’t much fun with a full 5 gallons of wort. A chiller will take you down to ferment temperatures in 10-20 minutes. And if you no chill your brew day is over as soon as the wort hits the cube.

Full boil will give you better beer, you get better hop utilization, you’ll be ready to move to all grain if you want, and the turkey burner will give you a better boil.

Now that you’ve got the boil tackled, jump into liquid yeasts. There are so many more options with liquid yeasts…but you need to learn to make starters. Sure you can pitch a whole bunch of vials if you have that kind of money, but starters aren’t that hard to do.

You can start with the manual shake method where you shake the starter up periodically then move on to using a stirplate. Use Mr. Malty to figure out how big a starter you need.

Get a diffusion stone, regulator, and an O2 bottle and you are in business to get fast starts on your beers.

All Grain
Still doing extracts? Still making great beer. Maybe you want to expand what beers you can do. Maybe you enjoy the complexity of all grain. Whatever the reason, all grain is usually a step people make. I’d suggest to start with minimash first. It is a lot easier to learn on a small volume of grains and you are already a pro with the extract.

Personally, I would move to Brew In A Bag over a sparge method. It is a very easy, very flexible, very cheap, and is an easy concept to grasp. You can get complex with the method easily so it will grow with you. Having said that, there is nothing with getting a cooler to become a sparger. It’s all just hot water and grains after all.

Dive into the world of water building if you have the nerve. Most people can get away with staying clear of this topic and will make great beers. Some people want to gain a few extra points in competition so they move to water. Others, like me, have to move to water as their source requires it. My water is almost void of minerals and I noticed a huge benefit to building my water, especially for hoppy beers. But fair warning-water chemistry in beer is pretty complex, and that’s coming from an engineer.

Outer Limits
Push your limits. Challenge yourself. Try new methods. Keep brewing fun. And go back to your roots sometimes, do an extract in your kitchen. Brew all kinds of beers. Brew beers you’ve brewed before but see if you can improve them. Don’t forget to try other things too like Graff, wines, sake, mead. Then there’s yeast washing and ranching!

Can you hear me now?
I know the urge is there to jump in to brew the biggest, best beer ever know to mankind. Guess what? You won’t succeed. You build a foundation before you build a home. The same goes for homebrewing. Get all the basics down by keeping things simple at first. Add layers of complexity slowly, once you’ve mastered your last skill. Too many skills at once are not a good thing.

And most importantly. NONE of the above is really necessary to make great beer. I believe it was John Palmer who once told a story of how he made a beer with a can of hopped extract, entered it into a contest, and won. So don’t get too full of yourself and your mad brewing skills.