Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I'm a double-bagger

Well, not really... but last weekend I brewed twice and decided to use 2 layers of brew bags in my pot.  Normally, I just use 2 paint strainer bags in my 10 gallon pot.  This way, the bags are easier to lift out and to squeeze wort out of.  But, with so many in the BIAB community using voile bags, I decided to see how much of my grain was making it out of the paint strainer bags and into the boil. With a voile bag underneath my paint strainers, I would catch all that slipped through the larger openings in the strainer bags.

Here is a picture of my kettle.

Brewinabag  Brewinabag

It's a 44 qt Bayou Classic with a layer of reflective insulation around it.  I use a 3000W induction heatplate which I love, and have an 18" by 18" sheet of silicone rubber on top to protect from spillage finding its way into the electronics. I also have a false bottom of sorts that goes in the bottom.

My normal mash-in looks something like this:


I clip the 2 paint strainer bags across the kettle, and try to split the grain bill evenly between the two. (These grains were milled at my LHBS using their mill set at .039.)  

This time, however, before clipping the paint strainer bags, I dropped in a large voile bag that I had used (with considerable pain and suffering) ages ago.  The voile bag would catch anything that made it through the strainer bags.

After the mash, I pulled the strainer bags as shown below.  I really like the way they drain so quickly.


After squeezing them for all they're worth, I pulled out the voile bag. 


Then I draped it over a 5 gallon bucket to see what it caught.

Here it is:


Maybe not all that much, but it certainly did help.

I am currently having a local seamstress make me 2 voile bags that are the same size as my paint strainers.  I've asked to have them a bit larger around the bottom so the grains have room to "swim" a bit.  I may try this experiment again once I have the voile bags just to see if anything gets through the smaller bags and is caught by they larger one.  You'd think not, but we'll see.

By the way, I usually hit my gravities right on with BeerSmith set to 75% efficiency.  I'm not sure how some of the guys on forums are getting 80% or more.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Clear Beer - Finally!

For several years, I've struggled to understand why my finished beer ends up with a slight haze.  It comes out of the kettle clear as day, but after fermentation, it is no longer clear.   I finally broke down and paid Ward Labs ($40 online) to test my well water.  Here are the results:

To my surprise, my water is very low in all minerals....perfect for a pilsner, but maybe even lacking for that!

I spent several weeks learning more about what was needed and how to adjust my mash water.  Brewersfriend.com is an excellent website that includes a Water Chemistry Calculator that is a great start.  It even allows you to enter your own water profile (which optionally can be shared with everyone), and to load that profile along with the desired profile (e.g. - Balanced, Burton, etc.).  You then can tweak the available brewing salt additions to reach the desired levels.

The problem I found with it is that you need to find the right mix of additions by trial and error, and sometimes changing one item, you affect other mineral contents.

I later realized that Beersmith has a Water Profile tool that includes an automatic calculator button.  After entering the desired water profile and your current (starting) water profile, a quick press of the Calculate Best Additions button runs an algorithm that determines the best mix to get very close to the desired profile.

I then entered all of the various ideal water profiles (i.e. balanced, light colored and hoppy, dark and malty, etc.) from Brewer's Friend (these are in the drop down box that's part of the Water Target Selection portion of the Mash Chemistry and Brewing Water Calculator ) into Beersmith.  By starting with my well water profile, and selecting the profile for the beer style I'm brewing, the required additions are calculated with the press of a button!

I've printed these out and keep them handy for brewing.  One wishlist for Beersmith is that the values be shown in tsp.  They are currently shown in grams.

Bottom line is, if you're not paying attention to your water, you're ignoring the ingredient that makes up 95%+ of your beer.  Surprisingly, many homebrewers don't.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Induction Brewing!

My busy life has kept me from posting much in the last months, but I wanted to share a new brewing setup that I am hoping proves to be where I'll end up.

For the last several years, I have used the BIAB method with great success.  My setup includes a 10 Gallon Aluminum pot, and a homemade 4500W heatstick with control box.  It makes great beer, but I've become tired of lugging around the heatstick with the 10 foot cable and box.  It's just not "elegant".

Recently, I came across some posts discussing induction cooktops, and their applicability to brewing.  Since I had always used a 4500W heatstick, I figured I'd need to find something close in wattage to provide enough energy to boil 7+ gallons of wort.

The forums mentioned an Avantco IC3500 (3500W), and also a Max Burton 6530 (3000W) induction cooktop.  I was fortunate enough to find a non-working Max Burton 6530 on ebay for $50, and was able to repair it.

The one catch is that my aluminum pot was not going to work, as induction cookers operating by magnetically inducing a current in the cookware that heats the pot and it's contents.  Aluminum does not work.  A stainless steel pot was needed, but not just any stainless steel will work.  After buying a 10 gallon pot, I realized it was not compatible, so I had to sell it and start over.

The forums mentioned that any pot that a magnet sticks to should work, and Bayou Classic pots had worked for some, so I ordered a 1144 pot (10 gallon pot with steamer basket).

Here's what it looks like...

In these pictures I did not have the steamer basket in, and it was prior to my drilling a hole for my valve.

Here I was just testing how long it took to bring 8 gallons to a boil.  From 60 Deg F to 150 Deg F it took roughly 35 minutes.  From 150 Deg F to boiling was about 20.  I took a temperature every 5 minutes, and it's basically 12 degrees every 5 mins.  (Was hoping to graph the data, but did not get to that yet)

March 2015 - I had started this post in 2014 and am just getting around to publishing it.  Since then, I've used this set up with great success.  My brewing partner has started using induction plates also (he purchased 2 of the Avantco 3500W plates).  I've even become proficient at repairing these, as we've (for various reasons) had a few components blow.

One suggestion I have is to avoid any downward pressure on these cooktops, aside from the weight of the water.  During one of my first brews, I had sat my grain bag on a rack that was across the top of the pot to let it drain.  Then I started pushing down on the bag to try and squeeze more wort out.  Later I found that the glass surface on the plate had cracked.  I repaired it using JB Weld (love that stuff!), but to be safe, I ordered an 18" by 18" Silicone Rubber sheet off ebay ($18) and I now drape that across the heatplate, and under the pot.  It has turned a little brown from the heat, but has not melted (silicon rubber has a melting point of 300 deg F or more, I think). This keeps any liquid that might find its way to the surface of the heatplate from leaking into the unit.  Water and electricity are not a good combination!

As always, let me know if you have any questions.  I will try and post a few more pics of my complete setup as it exists now.

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!


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!


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