Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alecraft Brewing Supply

Nothing good comes easy...that's a saying that's stuck with me since some wise man shared it with me years ago.  I know I'm onto something good when the going gets tough.

So it is with my latest venture into homebrewing.  You see, several months ago, by pure serendipity, I came across two fellow homebrewers who work less than a block from me whom I had never met.  They had been laying the groundwork for opening a homebrew supply shop.  Eventually, I joined them, and for the last three months we've been working tirelessly on getting the shop ready to open.

Currently, we plan to open on September 3, 2013, with a Grand Opening on the following Friday.

Along the way, we have been met by many challenges, starting with miscommunications that almost cost us our store lease, and most recently by government bureaucracy.  You would think that if a state/town wants to grow its tax base it would be thrilled to help three entrepreneurs open a shop that serves a market with an annual growth rate of 20%.  Apparently not, but I digress....

The purpose of today's post is simply to plug our store and website we call...

AleCraft Brewing Supply, LLC
6 Office Street
Bel Air, MD 2014


We also have a presence on Facebook at:


You'll notice that the website is not up yet, but plans are to offer online ordering for shipment, or in-store pickup by October.

I have become the unofficial corporate photographer so below are some pictures of the store.

 A panoramic view from the front door during set up


 
The first shipment arrives....in a truck too big to turn down the street, and with no liftgate!

Part of the first shipment ready to check against the packing list.


 Part of the first shipment.  Bags of malt!  Yum!



 Inventory complete and ready for sale.

Finally, thanks to our good friends at Costco for featuring this blog on page 31 of the latest edition of the Costco Connection magazine!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fun with a Spunding Valve

Few if any homebrewers are familar with a spunding valve.  It's actually used commonly in commercial breweries, but only a small subset of homebrewers could consider using it as it requires a fermenter that can withstand 10 PSI or so of internal pressure (such as a Cornelius keg).  Since most of us use carboys or plastic buckets to ferment, a spunding valve is not an option.

A spunding valve is basically a pressure relief valve that is used on commercial bright tanks to carbonate the beer using the CO2 generated during the final stages of fermentation.

An adjustable pressure relief valve is the key to dialing in just the right amount of pressure, while allowing excess pressure to bleed off harmlessly.  This pressurized CO2 yields the same result as connecting a CO2 bottle to your keg....your beer gets carbonated!

Last year, I began fermenting in Cornelius kegs.  I can't recall why, but it was then that I found a thread on one of the homebrew forums describing how to build a spunding valve.  It allows you to get your beer carbonated as fermentation finishes using the CO2 produced by the yeast as it eats away at the last vestiges of sugar in the wort.  Some claim that you can go from pitching yeast, to drinking beer in 10 days on some low gravity beers by using this method.

After a few weeks of thought, and mulling over how to make a functional yet affordable version of a spunding valve I could live with, I ordered what I needed and assembled what you see below.




A standard gray gas fitting with barb is shown at the bottom connected to the keg.  I used hose clamps and a short piece of tubing to connect to a transition fitting that mates with the adjustable pressure valve (black body with round gray knob).  To the left of the valve is a pressure gauge that monitors pressure in the keg.

Cornelius kegs are rated to 140PSI, and they also have a built-in relief valve on the lid (at least mine do), so maintaining 10 PSI does not pose any danger.

The biggest challenge in using these is figuring out when to put them on the keg.  When I pitch the yeast, I remove the Gas In fitting and tube, and force a piece of tubing over the threaded nipple that sticks out of the keg.  The tubing (blowoff tube) feeds into a small jar of water.  If you fill the keg too much with wort, the krausen will push up into the tube and into the jar.  You need to wait until this settles down before putting the spunding valve on, or you'll end up with all of that in your pressure relief valve and gauge..yuck.

BYO has an article written in 2007 by Marc Martin describing the spunding valve and when to attach it.  He says that you should wait until you're within 0.005 of final gravity, but I usually don't wait that long. I just wait for the krausening to calm down, and then set the pressure to 10PSI and stick it on there.

Chris White's book about yeast discusses the effect of pressure on yeast, and he says that you should keep it under 15PSI.  If you set it to 10PSI, you should get good carbonation, and not hurt the yeast too much.  It's worked fine for me.

Once fermentation stops, I rack from one Corny keg to another using a short tube with liquid fittings on each end.  This transfers the beer without exposing it to oxygen (assuming you've purged the target keg with co2 prior too the transfer).  Just make sure you divert the initial burst to another vessel so you don't get all the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter keg into the target keg.



You'll need your CO2 tank handy to help force all of the beer over into the target keg. I usually set my regulator to 5 PSI or so...just enough to push it through the tubing.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.  I'm writing this with a glass of Merlot sitting next to me, so I may have missed some details!


The bag is the key to BIAB!

Once I realized the benefits of Single Vessel brewing (AKA Brewing in a Bag), I eagerly read as much as I could find regarding this method.  I rushed out to Walmart and purchased a $5 Voile curtain and sewed myself a bag.

Several brews later, and I was hooked.  The technique was beautiful and made great beer!  But then one day, I decided to split my grains among 2 bags....but this time I used the infamous Home Depot 5 Gallon paint strainer bags that are often used for hops additions.  I simply used binder clips to hold each bag around the edge of my brewpot.

Wow!  What a difference.  By splitting the grains into 2 bags, each bag was easier to handle, and actually provided more surface area for the water/wort to contact the grains. 

Additionally, when mashing was finished, lifting each bag out to drain was much easier, and even better, the wort flowed out of the bag much more freely it seemed.  Could it be that the paint strainer bags have a slightly coarser weave than the voile curtain???  Well, my eyes are no longer able to see that level of detail even with glasses, and I sold my microscope/chemistry kit decades ago.  I took some pics with my phone camera, and while blurry, it does appear that the paint strainer bags are significantly coarser in weave than the voile.

So for now, I'm sticking with 2 paint strainer bags and retiring the voile. Actually, the voile bags came in handy this weekend when I harvested my hops.  I just dumped them into a voile bag and hung it next to a fan.  Twenty-four hours later, I had dried hops!

Please let me know if you've tried different types of material for your grain bag, and what your results have been.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Maximizing Wort Extraction From Your Grain Bag - VIDEO

Today's video demonstrates the technique described several posts ago that I use to squeeze the most wort out of my grain bag.  As always, your comments and questions are welcomed.




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Thursday, November 22, 2012

UPDATED: How to End Up With Almost No Trub After Boiling

Last weekend my brew bud Travis and I cooked up a batch of Kilkenny Irish Ale Clone.

All went well.  We had a nice even rolling boil.

We use a 5 gallon paint strainer as a hops bag.  We had clipped it differently than usual, around one half (almost) of the boil kettle and added hops as called for.  Part of the elastic band at the top of the bag was stretched across the middle of the pot.


Here's the strange part....as the boil reached the top of the kettle, it overflowed into the paint strainer bag almost like a waterfall, as the wort in the bag was not bubbling/foaming up.

We were happy that this was keeping the pot from boiling over, but it wasn't until we drained the wort that we saw something amazing.

There was almost no trub or hot break in the bottom of the pot!  Why?  I appears that is was all filtered by the hops bag as the boil push it all up and over the side and into the paint strainer/hops bag.

Is this a good thing?  I'm really not sure, as many feel that some trub/hot break/cold break serves as nutrients for the yeast.  I guess we'll see how the batch turns out and report back!

Cheers!

Update:  Here's a video showing the technique in action:



Update 2: 8-23-13
Well, I found out that this technique can work TOO well!  Last night I brewed a batch of Gumballhead clone (3 Floyds Brewing, Indiana), and maintained a perfect rolling boil for the entire 60 minutes.  I was distracted by a pre-season football game, and did not realize that so much of the trub and break had been caught by the hops bag, that it had clogged it up, and almost no wort was in the pot.  It was all in the hops bag!  I went outside to watch the last minute of the boil, and noticed a burnt odor in the air.  Turns out, my heatstick was at the bottom of the pot steaming away those last few ounces of wort that did not make it into the hops bag.

Fortunately, my heatstick element is an Ultra Low Wattage version that does not burn out if fired outside of water.  I used my long spoon on the inside of the hops bag to clear off the trub and hops to allow it to drain.  The wort was nice and clear, and there was almost no trub in the bottom of the pot.

The remainder of the session went OK, aside from the fact that I had boiled off too much wort, and my OG was about 10 points too high!  I topped off the fermenter with tap water to make 5 gallons, and brought the OG back down to 1.056, pitched the S-05 and had bubbles from the blow off tube this morning!

So, if you do try this method, be aware of the possibility of the hops bag getting clogged.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Putting the Squeeze on your grain bag

All of us Brew-in-a-Bag fans have experienced it;  when the mash is finished and you want to get all of that sweet, precious wort out of the bag, you start twisting and squeezing the bag for all you're worth.

Trouble is, that grain is still 150degrees or more and your hands can only take that so long.

I've seen several ideas posted to address this, everything from high temperature gloves, to clamping two plates around the bag and tightening the clamps.

After running through several designs for a bag squeezer in my head, I have settled on a solution that uses a caulking gun and a metal bowl along with my current setup to press the grain bag into submission.

Below is a picture of my (as yet untested) idea.


The key component is a standard caulking gun as shown below (less than $10 on Amazon)


After removing the guide ring at the end that normally holds the front of the tube of caulk, I bent the ends of the metal rails to form 1/4 inch tabs that grab under the edge of the colander.  After that, I spread the rails and bent them to allow room for a plate or bowl to be fit inside above the grain bag.


I have not decided what to use below the plunger to press against the grain bag.  I have some stainless steel dog bowls similar to this that could work.







But this round-bottom mixing bowl is cheap and looks like it could work also.




My colander is similar to this one:

If you have a favorite way to get the wort out after mashing, please leave a comment below.  I'm open to new ideas!

Cheers!

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

What's inside my Electric Brewstick Controller box?

After deciding to go all-electric for my  BIAB brewing setup, I considered how to control the heatstick.  I wanted something more than an ON/OFF switch. or simply plugging/unplugging the brewstick from the outlet.

Originally, I did not consider a PID as adding a thermocouple into the mix was over-complicating things in my view.  I settled on a design that was detailed in the Homebrewtalk forum and used a small circuit card to control a solid state relay which switched power to the heatstick.

The picture below shows the semi-rat's nest inside my box.  One day I hope to clean it up a bit. My apologies for not having it all prettied up like many of the other projects I have seen detailed.


The first version of this box used the Control Board to turn on the relay every so often based on the setting of the potentiometer (round silver component on far side of box).  By turning the knob on the outside of the box (connected to the potentiometer), I could control whether the heatstick was on for 1 second every 12 seconds, all the way up to 11.5 seconds of every 12 second interval.  The relay switched one of the 2 phases of 120VAC to the heatstick, effectively turning it on and off.

This worked OK during mashing (although still not ideal), but to get my pot up to boil, I needed the heatstick on all the time.

To accomplish this I added the Bypass Switch (shown above) that bypasses the relay, and (when turned ON) keeps the heatstick on continuously.  Once I got to a boil, I turned this off, and went back to the timer (technically a variable duty-cycle) approach circuit to control the heatstick.

Since the heatstick is so powerful (5500W), I could not keep a constant boil using the timer circuit.  The instant the timer switched off the heatstick the boil would stop.  So I decided to buy one of the PIDs so often seen in homebrew projects to see if that would improve the boil as well as the mash temperature control.  Mine was around $20 on ebay and displays temperature in degrees C.

With the PID installed, I was able to control temperature quite nicely by dropping the thermocouple into my pot and setting the digital controller (PID) to the desired temperature.

I no longer need the Controller Board in the box, but have left it there because it provides a 9V voltage source that the PID uses to switch the relay on and off.  I could replace it with a pull-up resistor, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

I did want to mention that I do have a ground wired through the box, and connected to the metal shank of the heatstick.  The other protection that is the most important part of the system is the 2-pole GFCI circuit breaker that I installed in my breaker panel.  This is what will save me if a short happens, as it did already once (my heatstick was not sealed properly with enough J-B weld...had to re-seal it..no problems since.)  GFCI breakers monitor current flow in each circuit (i.e. both phases of 120VAC going to my box/heatstick) and if there is ever a difference (meaning there is a short to ground somewhere in the circuit) of as little as 2-3mA between their currents, the breaker trips.

While the heatstick uses 240VAC, the way this is delivered is via 2 different phases of 120VAC that look like 240VAC to the heatstick.  So, while you'll notice I have a warning sticker on the top of my relay saying 240VAC, it is actually only 120VAC going through the relay.  The other phase of 120 is wired through the box directly to the heatsticks second terminal.  

Below is a functional block diagram of the entire box, including the unused Controller Board.

Here is a picture of the top of the control box.  Of course, I ordered a PID with Celcius readout, and I never did memorize that conversion formula....something like 9/5 times temp plus 32?  or is that minus 32?


Here is the box with associated wiring/connections.  to the right is the thermocouple.  The short white 120V plug at the bottom powers the PID.  The gray 220VAC plug brings power into the box, and the black 10-3 cable coming out the top left is wired into the heatstick.


As I did in my last post, my disclaimer here is that I am not a licensed electrician, and if you are not knowledgeable about electricity/electronics you should consult one.


If anyone wants more details, let me know.

This setup has been working great for me.  I love the fact that I don't have to worry about running out of propane, and I can brew indoors in my basement shop in the winter, or during inclement weather.

I know that the efficiency of a heatstick tops propane burners, as all of the energy from the heatstick goes right into the water.

Thanks again to the entire brewing community for all of the ideas that I've borrowed from to end up with my system!



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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The secret behind my Electric Brewstick

I get strange looks at my brewclub when I mention Brew-in-a-Bag.  No one knows what it is.  One guy in the club came up to me last Saturday and asked me about my "Brew-in-a-Curtain".  My mention of using a voile curtain panel earlier in the week must have stuck with him....or maybe he was just ribbing me....

Anyway...as if being a BIAB'er is not strange enough, I also do not use a propane burner as my heat source.  Instead I use a heatstick.  Not many in my brewclub know what that is either, so I'm basically the red-headed step-child in these parts of the brewing world!

Believe me, I'm trying to evangelize the BIAB method to all of my co-brewers, but I think my best chance at winning converts is with the extract brewers who are eyeing up the move to All-Grain brewing, but that's another topic for another day.


Today and tomorrow, I'm going to uncover the secrets inside my electric brewstick and the controller electronics that drive it.  Most of my design is based on concepts from two sites:
1. How to Build an Electric Hombreweing Heatstick page (thanks Tom), and
2. The Electric Brewery (thanks Kal)

They each went to great lengths to layout in detail how to build an electric-based brewing solution and did a great job.

Along with these sites, I also spent hours scouring the Homebrewtalk website as well to see what others had done and how.  The innovative ideas and willingness to share them is incredible among homebrewers!

My version (shown below) takes "elements" of both Kal's and Tom's designs to make what I feel works best for me as a single-vessel hardcore Brew-in-a-Bag'er.



 Here are my thoughts on how I settled on my final design:

1.  The first design (shown below) is a handheld brewstick made from standard plumbing parts and an 2000 Watt electric water heater element. 


I like this handheld design because it keeps the brewstick separate from the pot/keggle.  Other designs have the element mounted in the bottom of the pot.  I was not sure how easy it would be to clean the keggle with the heater element permanently mounted in the pot so I decided to go handheld.

Also, I use a garden hose to spray off my pot both inside and out, and I was concerned that somehow eventually water would find its way into the electrical/mounting box, and that's never a good thing.

Finally, if I ever wanted to use a different pot, a handheld design gives me that flexibility without the need to drill a mounting hole and worry about leaks.

This design allows the user to simply plug in the heatstick to a standard outlet (with an appropriately sized breaker!) to get things heating/boiling.  A temperature control was not part of this design, so the user simply plugs and unplugs the brewstick as needed to attain/maintain temperature.

2.  The second design (shown below) uses a 5500W (240VAC) Camco water heater element mounted through the side of the pot with a waterproof box on the outside to protect the electrical connections.





 Now this baby will get your water up to temperature quickly (it's more than twice the wattage of the other design), but does require a bit of engineering on the electrical side to make sure that you have enough current available to run it full blast.  I calculated that I'd need about 23 Amps at 240VAC.  This requires 10AWG wire, and a 30Amp double pole GFCI breaker in your panel.   This is no place to skimp on cost.  Get a double-pole GFCI breaker and install it!  It could save your life if you ever have a ground fault in your system.

(Disclaimer:  I am not a licensed electrician, and cannot assume any liability should you damage your house wiring, cause a fire, or worse, injure or kill yourself if you copy any of these designs.  Consult a qualified electrician if you don't know your way around electricity and AC wiring)

The element I used is similar to the one shown, but without the curves.  It is an ultra-low watt density (ULWD) element, meaning that it will not burn out as quickly if you plug it in without water around it.

I decided that it was worth the extra hassle and cost of having my local electrician install a 240VAC outlet in my shop, and a double-pole 30Amp GFCI breaker in my panel in order to allow use of a heating element that would quickly get my water/wort up to strike/boil temperature in a reasonable timeframe.

To get my heatstick to lay fairly flat on the bottom of my pot, I tried to find out if these Camco elements are bendable.  After a few emails with Camco, I decided to give bending a try, but to keep the bends gentle based on their recommendation.  I ended up with what you see below, and it's been doing fine for the last 6 months and about 6 batches.
It sits nicely on the bottom of the pot, and with the 2 sections of the element spread apart, it stays balanced pretty well.

Incidentally, the handheld design I reference above uses J-B Weld to seal around the water heater element, as well as the electrical connections inside.  I used it also, but did not use enough initially, and had to re-seal it by using more J-B Weld to get a complete seal.  Since then, it's worked great.  I've read a few online discussions about the safety of J-B Weld.  It is supposed to be non-toxic, and can survive 500 Deg F.  I've never had a problem with it flavoring my beer either.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss the control box I have built to regulate the temperature in my BIAB setup.

Until then.....cheers!