Monday, March 25, 2013

And now for something marginally different - Carpentry Edition.

As has been alluded to and flat out stated, we're building a kegerator! There's little sense in having these kegs filled with delicious beer if there's nowhere to keep them cool. And while it works, a picnic tap just gives a sub-par pouring experience on the whole.

Hooray for Cornys!

So as was previously shared, we've got our chest freezer and temperature control in house and hooked up. We're dispensing happily from it with our two picnic taps and our gas lines. We've actually had all the gear to set up our keezer for some time. All of it except the wood for the collar. The collar is the real beauty of this endeavor. It gives us the headroom we need to fit that extra keg in, and gives us something less dramatic to drill holes in, and at the same time maintains the structural integrity of the freezer itself.

We have decided to go with 2"x8" Fir for our main structure, as this gives us a nice solid base without breaking the bank. Then for flair, we're going to cover that with an outside layer of 1"x12" oak, with a rich Red Mahogany stain. She's gonna be a beaut!

Measuring out the 2"x8" Fir for the inner collar

I was working alone today, so there weren't a ton of opportunities for 'at work' shots. But I tried my best to document each step.

Setting the measured & cut pieces to make sure they're right (they totally were!)

Fixing the whole thing together with angle brackets and 3" wood screws

There was a curious moment in the making of the butt joints where I thought I was blowing it. I was drilling guide holes for the main connecting wood screws (at the outside of the joint coming into the smaller side pieces) and twice in a row the screw went loose right after it got a little ways into the adjoining piece. The heads would just loll to one side and spin in a wide, sad arc that made me think the inside had rotted out or something weird like that. Instead what had been happening was the screws were hitting a particularly gnarly knot in the wood, which was so hardcore that the screws were snapping off due to the pressure I was putting on them and the resistance from the stronger segment of wood.
Momentary woe gives way to ultimate relief - nothing is going to loosen that joint

Once it was all screwed together and fitted on the freezer, it was time to make a judgement call - would I get heroic and finish it as far as the staining? We want the Oak to be brilliant, so we want to do miter joints for maximum greatness. I was using a chop saw, and so I felt like it might be worth a go. I measured up a few times and made my marks and set the saw to a 45° angle then paused. In cutting the 8" wide Fir, the saw was not quite large enough to make the cut in one stroke, I had to flip the piece to get all the way through. Needless to say, this just about sufficed for 8" on a butt joint and so I couldn't fathom of a way to make it work mitering a 12" wide piece of Oak. Maybe there is one, but quite frankly I wasn't in a position to figure that out.

Next up, the circular saw! It happily had capacity to make 45° cuts, and was hand-held for extra ability to cut through 12" of luxurious Oak. And this brings us to the lesson portion of our time together ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. The maxim is to measure twice, and cut once and its a good one, but why not go one better? In this instance I went by the rule of measure twice, cut twice. And boy-howdy did it save my skin. I decided I'd take the circular saw to a bit of scrap wood we had laying around to make sure it would work as intended. Sadly my steady hand wasn't so good with a hand-held and the wood I cut deigned to start smoking halfway through. Although if I had done my first cut on the Oak it would have been a much less happy occasion.

Down tools. It was time to relax, not worry and have a homebrew. I immediately admitted defeat. The mantra of this failure (if it could indeed be classified as such) is: "We need to do it right, not right now."

So the collar isn't ready to stain, and the tap holes aren't drilled. But my limits are happily in check and a not insignificant amount of the work was done. The Fir fits, and I played around with the taps on some scrap wood. This thing's going to rock!
Fully assembled and ready to rock - the inner collar

Gateway to the sweet ambrosia

Imagine these straight and nicely spaced - maybe even with a cheeky stout faucet on one end.
If you look really close, you can see where I tried the mitering on that last photo, I used the same piece of scrap for that and for test-mounting the taps (the 7/8" spade bit worked a treat!). Another great day with useful lessons learned and another step closer to a magnificent beer delivery service. Hey, and the beer wasn't half bad either, the picnic taps still get it into my glass ;).

Fancy a pint?

But, soft! What light, through yonder IPA breaks?

A delicious IPA. Yesterday.
It is the beer, that welcomes in the sun.

And with that it was spring. As has become typical around here we were enticed with gradually warming temps, only to be suddenly slammed by snow beyond vernal equinox. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure its worse back east (on both sides of the pond), but it was a most jarring contrast albeit a brief one. Thankfully that is behind us and Seattle is now quite balmy... at least by recent standards.

And to the matter at hand; our dear sweet libations. Much has happened in the intervening period since last we spoke. Our testing ground IPA is coming to fruition, and our Pistachio Porter has matured to term - both are excellent. Although at risk of falling foul of the trappings of hubris, I had fully expected that would be the case with the Porter. The IPA however, has surprised in spades. From a modest beginning with the simplest of grain bills and a moderate to aggressive hop schedule I had expected to come out with a serviceable yet somewhat hop-heavy end result. However, the beer we've ended up with is somewhat startlingly delicious. The balance of hops seems to have worked quite nicely, and instead of overwhelming the whole affair they instead have deftly complemented the malty goodness with but a hint of bitterness and a smooth, soft edge. Hop-heads might not sing its praises, but its got a decent identity and has been worthwhile beyond the simple exercise of finding how clear we could make a lighter beer and seeing the results of using but one style of grain.

So if you see me, give me a shout, we've a bonnie pair and the Amber is but a couple of weeks away. I think that might end up being the catalyst for some kind of hootenanny so mark you calendars for a weekend in early to mid April for Sound and Fury goodtimes. We've even been expanding our kegging capacity in order to mark the occasion.

See our kegs, see our kegs - made from real Stainless Steel...
We've added 8 Cornelius Kegs since we put the Porter on tap, so we're going to be needing some help sampling our wares (or we'll have a very unproductive next few brewery days). We're also going to be working on classing up our dispensing system. But that's for the next post.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

To keg... Perchance to serve.

When I started out, making 5 gallons of beer on the stove seemed like a lot, but still a manageable amount. Enough that I might realize the dream of drinking a bottle of my own beer. Times have changed, and so have I. With ~10 gallons a time coming out of the new system we have finally embraced the awesome power of the keg!

Our first kegs - two cornies, a 5lb Co2 tank and picnic taps.

We are now primarily going to be serving out of Cornelius kegs (a smaller, more user-friendly keg style that is now deprecated from the soda industry). With this luxurious problem comes the dilemma of how best to store and serve from these kegs at temperature worthy of the fruit of our labor. Enter the keezer!

A scrap wood preview of what is to come.
This brings me to another aspect of homebrewing that I've been thoroughly enjoying. I have never considered myself handy and I'd never want anyone relying on my construction work, but homebrewing affords both the scope and flexibility of amateur DIY projects that make even this novice dream of grand feats of home improvement. We built our brewery stand and its not immaculate but it works and its a tank. We'll build our keezer and I've full faith it will delight and dazzle (potentially in unequal measure and likely proportional to the amount of contents consumed).

The taps and such came in this week, and we're still making decisions on the wood. However that hasn't stopped me from unpacking everything and checking out what we've got to work with in the mean time. Enjoy these pics from an evening reveling in the anticipation of work and victory yet to be!

Brewmaster Pete pours the primary pistachio porter - carbed up and ready to roll

Our chest freezer - 7 cu. ft. Should be enough for 5 kegs once we get the collar on

Ranco Two-Stage Temperature control

Myriad parts - Perlick 525SS faucets, faucet wrench, shanks, gas manifold, tubing (both 3/16" & 5/16")

The perfect pour - the porter's looking fine and tasting smooth

Do you like luxury?

Finally set the regulator to be read from within the freezer.

Lots to be going on with here, and lots to be explained. I'm planning on having my camera handy during the build that I might expound upon each step, its virtues, vices and place in the brewing cosmos. Goodnight for now, and cheers to a future of quality brews served right. For in that deep of keg, what beers may come....

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Pistachio Diaries

Hey you pistachios! Get in my beer!

Over a month since brew day and the Pistachio Porter is finally taking shape. With somewhere in the region of a 9.5 gallon yield we decided we'd do a little experiment by splitting this batch over two kegs and conditioning each with a different amount of pistachio extract.  One has 27.5ml and the other 23.7ml (the latter calculated proportionally to the original mix and the first as a 'bumping up' experiment). Part of the fun was had via administering the pistachio extract into the bottom of the kegs using an infant medicine syringe.

Whilst we were at the brew house (wink, wink) last weekend having exciting adventures we decided to give these both a try, even though it had been less than a week. Initially we poured off the first few ounces into a jug, assuming a mess of sediment would come out. Happily it was pouring clean right from the get go (this has oft been my experience with darker beers). It was under-carbed but we had been carbonating at serving pressure to get a nice even distribution so it had only been at 7psi for 5 days. But there was potential in the body and already a decent mouthfeel.

Tasting out of the jug was pretty alarming, a lot of bitter and chemically notes came to the fore. That may have been because it was the first runnings, or even the vessel itself. I cannot be sure, but once we put some in a regular glass things got better pretty quick. It was at the very least suddenly recognizable as a serviceable replication of my prior efforts. Being tasted so young, there were some harsh flavors and inappropriate bitterness, and the pistachio flavors seemed a little more pronounced than I'd like. But on the whole I think that any real negative points are things that we feel will ebb nicely with another few days in the keg.

Side-by-side, despite the overwhelming nature of the pistachio at this point, I felt like the stronger mix was preferable. This could have been because it better cut the harsher bitterness of the base style. I was surprised by that as I had recalled a winning combination with the original proportions. But that's why we push the boundaries right? Why not chase that edge, that finer product,  that new horizon? I'm moved to muse that perhaps a more complex malt profile might be beneficial for future renditions of this ale. We'll search for the right mix until we know its just right.

Two New Beers

Carbing/Conditioning next week - An experimental IPA1, aggressively hopped and made with only a single base malt.
In fermentaton - A hybrid American Amber/British Bitter2 that fell foul of viciously chaotic circumstances.
Clear as a bell
1. The IPA, dropped clear and racked off the sediment

Today's tale concerns the unintentional hybrid Amber/Bitter we've concocted...

We started this past weekend with grand dreams of exacting and specific plans of controlled process and mimicking a specific beer. Several commercial breweries are kind enough to give folks a general approximation of what malts and hops go into their beers. One such which seemed like a widely available one for side by side comparisons was Elysian's Mensroom Red. Our plan was simple, to take the information on that page and use our knowledge (and exceptional software!) to try and get the best approximations of malt and hop amounts, mash schedule and yeast types to best hit bitterness, color and alcohol levels of the original beer. Through this we hoped we could come out with something that might at least stand up to a taste test, if not a full side-by-side comparison. Oh the ignorance and naivete of the inspired homebrewer!

The following is a lesson I'd learned before but had somehow deigned to forget for this exercise: 
ABC - Always Be Changing! Homebrew supply stores are to a great degree at the whims of the commercial brewing industry. The malt types that are in abundance are those that are grown and modified for various recipes favored by the local big players. It limits (or expands in some cases) what is available as excess for homebrew supply. Our recipe called for using a less common (though not unheard of) malt type as base and thus when supplies were purchased, the fact that the supply shop we settled on was completely out of that specific grain type was most alarming.
2. Into fermenters - an experiment with different yeast types

This led to a somewhat misguided attempt to substitute out various malt types and panic leading to bad choices. There was a safe conservative path to take and it was summarily ignored. We ended up with our smallest grain bill yet, and our smallest overall mash ever. This caused all kinds of observed problems with maintaining mash temperature to successfully convert starches to sugars (this may have been a limitation of our temperature gauging equipment). We added hot water, we added more hot water and when that appeared to fail we directly fired our Mash Tun, risking scorching the grains and making a mess of the whole thing. Luckily we managed to reach some kind of equilibrium and get a semi-decent mash (although it showed greater and lower than desired temperatures at all times). However, due to the measure of the grains and the chaos of the mash we were left with something that pre-boil, represented a significantly weaker beer than we'd planned. This is where the art and science of the process of brewing comes into play in its fullest force. Left with a beer with sugars less dense than desired, and an impending boil, we simply boiled the heck out of it and came out with something that we feel is going to be a worthy addition to our repertoire. There will be less volume, but that is certainly something we can live with.
The hop bed - post boil. Performs excellently as a filter bed for those undesirable and coagulated proteins

So the lesson learned (or perhaps reinforced) here is to always be thinking on your feet and open to whatever may be coming out of left field. Keeping your head and making good choices when things go wrong is essential in brewing as in life, if your best laid plans appear to be collapsing around you, take a moment and think about it. You are probably much more capable of improvising a win than you think at that very moment. I have a feeling the resultant beer of this past weekends session is going to be quaffable in the very least and has the potential to be the happiest accident of all. And even if it is an offense to the taste-buds, we still learned a lot and had a ball making it.

Come the end of this month we're going to have 3 beers on tap and another knocking on the door. Methinks some kind of social event is in order!