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Blogging Lull (but not a homebrewing lull)

I logged in to this blog today with the intent to post something.  I have five drafts started, but none of them are finished. And I somehow doubt that I’ll finish any of them soon.

Lots of stuff going on:

  • I bottled my first lager a few weeks ago
    I LOVE the flavor – it’s everything I wish American Lagers were.  It has a slightly sharp citrus flavor that makes me feel like it’s summer when I’m drinking it.  Unfortunately, it’s undercarbonated. I can’t seem to find any style for it in BJCP, so it might be in 34B or 34C in the next competition, because even if undercarbonated I think it’s worth getting some comments from the judges (especially because it’s clean). I have two more beers for that competition.  I’m absolutely going to get beers into this one since I missed the last one.

    Boring pic of yellow capped bottles of lager

    Boring pic of yellow capped bottles of lager

  • I bottled a black IPA
    I haven’t tasted this one in a carbonated form, but it took FOREVER to ferment.  I had issues with my mash temperature, I used lactic acid for the first time (to bring the strike and sparge water down to a pH of 5.5), fermenting initially stalled at 1.030 (from 1.062), and the temperature in my basement fell to 60º F.  Some of the tastes had a very harsh bitterness, but that fermented out (thank God!).  I think it’ll be good enough, but I’m not sure if I’m going to enter it into the next competition.

    Boring pic of red capped bottles of black IPA

    Boring pic of red capped bottles of black IPA

  • I chased a WHALEZBRO
    Local brewery MadTree released a BBA/Red Wine Barrel Aged Rubeus Cacao.  Given work meetings, a conference call, a run over lunch, it was tight but I made it… and man, I haven’t ran that fast on a training run in a long time!  The beer, BTW, was excellent!
  • Grain Absorption
    I learned to keep copious notes since I was having some difficulty hitting my mash temperatures.  I decided to log everything I could think of.  In looking back in the last few logs, I found that my grain was absorbing A LOT more than BeerSmith’s default 0.96 fluid ounces of strike water per ounce of grain.  In fact, I’m around 1.4720 fluid ounces per ounce of grain.  In searching for this on Google, this number is not out of line, but it does mean more sparge water (I find it slightly interesting, although not wrong, that it has no effect on strike water volume).
  • Mash Tun Modification
    Since I tend to feel like I religiously have a stuck sparge, I cut my mash manifold slots deeper and added a few more.  Of course because of that, I’m going to continue to monitor the grain absorption to see if I need to make on-the-fly adjustments.
  • Expansions
    I just looked on the “Where’s My Refund” tool and found that my Federal refund is due in a few days.  As soon as it hits the account, I’m buying kegs.  I’m also going to buy another boil tun (going with a 10 gallon instead of an 8 gallon).  Lastly, I’m going to buy a few more fermenters. The current one may become a sours fermenter.
  • Science!
    I ordered an inexpensive eBay China special microscope. It’s a waste of money.  I started a post, but I have a few things to do before it is ready.  The tl;dr: “buy a real microscope, don’t skimp on cheap crap from China”.  The other tl;dr: “You can’t see yeast with something you paid less than $20 for”.
    I have three or four or five things I want to brew, including an IPA (of course!), a saison, an American wheat (or maybe a hefeweizen), a berlinerweisse, and a Vienna lager.  I am going to run in to an issue with controlling fermentation temperatures and having a kegerator.  I have ideas, but nothing that I’ve done… yet.
  • This Weekend in Beer Drinking
    I may start posting something weekly about notable beers I’ve drunk. This could get interesting.
  • Running
    I’ve managed to keep my injuries at bay since before Christmas and I registered for the Moerlein Beer Series for the fourth year in a row.  I’ve made some changes nutrition-wise that may mean that I can keep things together (pun intended!) permanently.

Upcoming on the Blog

Happy New Years!

Everyone does some sort of sappy new year’s day post with some resolutions that they forget a few weeks later.

Yeah, this is resolutions

Yeah, this.

I’m going to be different – unlike last year where I actually had some resolutions, this year I have some things in progress.

Better Bottle Washer

As much as I want to move into kegging, like, NOW, I’m not – I’d rather be patient and do it right.  So I want to do something better for washing bottles that uses less water.

Bottle Washer Preview

Bottle Washer Preview

Mash and Brewhouse Efficiency

I have never had great mash or brewhouse efficiency.  This is something I am going to deal with. From my last five brews, my mash (extract) efficiency ranges from 54% to 73% (as calculated by BeerSmith). My brewhouse (volume) efficiency is worse, measuring 53% to 66%. I really want these in the 70s.   I am looking at potential changes to my mash tun (a cooler) as well as possibly getting a grain mill.


I think I said sometime over the past year that I was going to put off sours for a while.  I don’t know how much longer. There is something interesting about a Flanders Red or a Kriek Lambic or a Berlinerweisse.  This will likely be late in 2016.

The Pipeline

I just ran out of my IPA. I have a Kölsh, and an American Stout in bottles.  I have a pre-prohibition lager lagering and a black IPA I just brewed.  I have a very busy two weeks ahead and then I want to brew an IPA and then a cream ale. I’m going to try to have a pipeline so I buy less beer.  It’s not that I don’t like commercial beer, it’s that it can be quite expensive.  I do want to have a pipeline going so I constantly have a few beers ready to drink.


Five Retrospectives From a Year of Homebrewing

My first brew was in September of 2014.  It’s now November of 2014 and I’m preparing on brew #12.  Since starting into the hobby, I’ve read all or parts of a handful of books, hundreds of blog posts, and probably thousands of postings on Reddit, Homebrew Talk, and other message boards or forums.

1. Always Be Mindful of Who You’re Brewing For: YOU

One of my least favorite beers is the one I brewed for the Brew United competition. It is the highest scoring beer I’ve ever made. I’ve given lots of it away. Lots of people seem to like it. I don’t. I have at least 2 6-packs of this stuff sitting on my storage shelves and one bottle in my fridge occasionally. I brewed it because I thought I liked Kölsch beer and to try something different. It was an experiment of sorts, but I didn’t really have ME in mind when I brewed it.

My IPAs aren’t brewed for anyone but me.  Consequently, they are the least-shared and fastest consumed.

2. Be Above Craft Beer Elitism

Maybe a week before I wrote this, Ballast Point sold. I’ve seen good reactions and bad, with one prominent brewer saying that they will remove them from their bars. I guess their bars don’t carry Goose Island or Kona Brewing, either. The same people gave Lagunitas the same shit. And Founders.

I understand there are things that happen with profits when we buy non-craft beer. And I understand the drink-local attitude. But don’t be so pretentious to put down good beer (like Sculpin, KBS, CBS, and nearly everything else by Founders) over some definition that doesn’t actually include ‘good beer’.  Yes, some AB-SAB-InBev-owned products are actually good.  Personally, I’ve tried a lot of stuff from Goose Island once.  Some more than once (I’d take Goose Island over Bud Light!), and some I have my eye on.

3. Read With Caution

I’ve noted above that I’ve read hundreds of articles and blog posts.  I read about both homebrewing and the craft beer business.  I’m on Reddit Homebrewing all the time – I rarely post but I read (and have learned) a ton.  There’s hundreds of posts that will tell you that you must do certain things to ensure good beer.  Most of it is right – for example, I recall one that includes “healthy fermentation” by using yeast starters – definitely smart in very many cases.  Some is less right – for example, I recall one (possibly the same list) that said to control fermentation temperatures using something like a fermentation chamber or device – not necessary in all cases.  Many homebrewers in the midwest have basements that will maintain a fairly stable 65-70 degrees (although it helps to ensure that is the case).

Additionally, I’ve read things ripping on malt extracts.  While I do not use them, if you’re happy with the beer with them, use them.  I’ve brewed a very good IPA using all DME with some carapils steeped.  There is a different skill to using malt extracts, and it is one that deserves a little more respect.  And I say that as an all grain brewer.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment, But Do So Intelligently

My first experiment was a stout that I split and fermented in two batches, one with vanilla and the other with coffee. Both had a bitter cocoa bar added to the boil. It was a failure.

After that, I decided to be smart about experimentation. I bought a 1 gallon carboy. Occasionally, I rack a gallon of a base beer off into it when bottling (the rest of the batch gets bottled). The first experiment was a Saison with brettanomyces added. The second (which is currently in the carboy) is a cherry stout. If something goes bad, I’m out a gallon, not 5.  Of course, as Murphy would have it, I haven’t had a bad batch come out of the 1 gallon experiment carboy!

5. Don’t Stop Brewing

A kitten dies when a homebrewer stops brewing.  Don’t be that guy.  If you’re in a slump, look at the BJCP style contents and brew something new.  Brew something different. Brew something that isn’t beer (root beer, wine, kombucha). Experiment.  But don’t stop.



Chasing 2 Degrees Loss in the Mash Tun

A few months ago, I thought I’d fly sparge in my Mash Tun.  I had built a sprinkler to help in this.  I’ve since decided to batch sparge, since fly sparging is more difficult and is cumbersome to do with my setup.  So for a while I left the sprinkler in place and didn’t use it.  I noticed after my last brew day that I lost 2°F during the hour-long saccharification rest.  I decided to get the sprinkler out of the way and removed it, which left a big hole in the lid.  So I decided to add some extra insulation to see if I can ensure that there is less than 1°F of temperature loss.

The hole. Seems like this would cause a lot of temperature loss over an hour.

The hole. Seems like this would cause a lot of temperature loss over an hour.

Cover over the top.

Cover over the top.

Cover inside.

Cover inside.

This is what I tried.

This is what I tried.

Looks like a popcorn ceiling for a cooler.

Looks like a popcorn ceiling for a cooler.

So after nearly a day, I checked on it.  It seems to have stuck – I couldn’t easily pull it off, although I don’t know how well it’ll hold during an hour-long mash… we’ll see next weekend.

2015-11-22 13.29.19

It expanded a little. Which is okay.

2015-11-22 13.31.41

It throws off the balance of the lid a little, but not too bad. Heck, the cheap hinges will probably go someday soon anyway.


Bottling N’ Stuff – Cream Stout

As much as I was hoping to make this my first kegged beer, I haven’t actually purchased any kegs and my keezer is currently in use as a freezer.  Since I was given a $25 Amazon gift card, I decided to make my life a little easier in bottling with one of those bottle trees.

New Equipment in the Batavia Basement Brewing Company

New Equipment in the Batavia Basement Brewing Company.

It looks lighter than it is, courtesy of the foil-backed insulation in the basement.

It looks lighter than it is, courtesy of the foil-backed insulation in the basement.

Pretty little bottles all in a row

Pretty little bottles all in a row. 29 12-oz and 6 22-oz.

Racked one gallon off and put it on cherries.

Racked one gallon off and put it on cherries.

Definitely used a blow-off tube for this!.

Definitely used a blow-off tube for this! The towel is to protect from UV light.

I have some pictures of the brew day and was intending to write that blog post before this one, but there is a lot more that is going to go into that, so things will just have to be out of order.  Regardless of that, first taste of this will likely be on 11/21. And I’m really looking forward to it.


Site Expansion: Tasting Notes of My Beers

I’m starting something a little interesting with this site – tasting notes.  It’s under the “My Beers” link on the menubar.

I’m following what appears to be the general consensus on how to taste, rate, and review beers.  There’s some slight differences, but it’s what Beer Advocate, BJCP, and many others use.  A lot of bloggers use it too, like Queen City Drinks (example).  This involves scoring the beer on five criteria:

  1. Appearance
  2. Aroma
  3. Taste
  4. Mouthfeel
  5. Overall Impression

Additionally, I am going to try to be better on Untappd when it comes to reviews on my first drink of a beer.  I’m trying to do the first four of the five, but I tend to run out of characters (damn 140 character limit!), but even if I veer from this, it will never be as bad as “Not my thing”, which I’m sure I’ve left once.

The first of these is my Friend of Hades IPA v.2.  The second will be the Surfin’ Saison w/Brett, which will be posted in a few days.

Friend of Hades IPA v.2

Friend of Hades IPA v.2


The biggest reason is to help improve my beer tasting vocabulary.  Improving my vocabulary ultimately leads to improving my homebrew, which goes back into the tasting notes, which improves my vocabulary, which improves my homebrew… this is a vicious cycle.

Who knows, maybe I’ll improve my Beertography in the process.


Kegerator! The Plan.

If my last post didn’t indicate that I LOATHE bottling, I’m not sure what I could have said to get that point across.

He's really talking about bottling his homebrew, not those poor little Whos in Whoville.

He’s really talking about bottling his homebrew, not those poor little Whos in Whoville.

While bottling has the cost part down (a 6-pack of bottles costs around $10 and comes with free craft beer), it has a number of disadvantages:

  • Bottles are breakable
  • Bottles take up a ton of room
  • Capping 30-50 bottles at a time is no fun
  • There’s no reliable, easy way to store clean bottles

The last point may be what has aggravated my wife. Despite the basement being “mine”, she is not at all happy with the several 6-packs of bottles in the middle of the floor.  They’re in the middle courtesy of a crack in my foundation that leaks after extreme rains.  Which has so far been twice, the second time left several 6-packs of empty bottles in a puddle.  So they’ve been moved out for now. Into the middle of the floor.

This is pretty much the worst way to store bottles.

This is pretty much the worst way to store bottles.

The Plan – “Begin With The End In Mind”

My ultimate goal is a three tap keezer. One tap will (occasionally?) be a stout faucet. 95% of my beer is consumed by me, so I can have an IPA, a stout, and something else on tap. And nothing says that I can’t bottle the remains of a keg if it gets low, although the bottle guns I see look like a pain to use.

After looking at this guy’s nice keezer build on Reddit, my wife feels that it must be black and I must build a similarly nice looking collar. However, she feels mine should have a red pinstripe on it because it would make it look good with University of Cincinnati Bearcat decor.  It’s really cool of her to say that since her degree is from Southwest Florida College, mine are from UC and University of South Florida.

After looking at my budget, my first few kegs will be with picnic faucets.  I have more budget numbers, but they’re boring. I have more plans, but that’s boring too.  The overall plan is something like:

  1. Paint Keezer Black, fix temperature sensor issue, and run it (for now) with the Raspberry Pi
  2. Begin using (seriously, I LOATHE BOTTLING ENTIRELY!)
  3. Build collar (may be done before #2, depending on many things)
  4. …?
  5. Profit
  6. Add nice faucets
2015-10-17 15.55.33

I taped the insulation to paint around it. Of course I used gloves when moving the insulation to remove the handle.

The kid's on work detail. This is what happens when you don't respect your elders!

The kid’s on work detail. This is what happens when you don’t respect your elders!



There’s a few other things I want to do.  I’d love to have some way to know how much beer is left in a keg.  One way I can do this is using a flow meter (such as in this article on Adafruit’s website).  I don’t like the idea of a flow meter.  Adafruit’s has a 1/2″ inlet and outlet, and the beer lines are smaller, so the geeky engineer in me questions the accuracy, and the homebrewer in me questions what happens to the beer in this thing.  Then I thought about using weight sensors that I saw on Sparkfun’s website.  As I was typing this, I found a post on HBT that even points to Sparkfun’s tutorial on their kegerator.  While my implementation might deviate from this, it will be with inspiration from Sparkfun… although the first thing I thought of was this.

The Mystery Cylinder

I have a 5 lb beverage cylinder that I evidently purchased for another use in May of 2000.  Yes, fifteen years ago.  The gas shouldn’t go bad, but there was no label on the cylinder ever. I thought I’d call the place that I purchased the cylinder from (because it was either “air” or “CO2”, IIRC), but it appeared they went out of business many years ago (they may not have, but earlier I thought they did). I looked into things and found that as long as your tank was filled by a legitimate business (and this was), the ONLY valve on top of the tank should be a CGA 320… Okay, it could be Methyl Flouride, but I’d be shocked if I got that from a Fire Suppression Store and that it’d have a green collar on it, normally flammable stuff is red (but I could be wrong, I didn’t look into this).

I know of no other tests, but since I’m 99% sure this is CO2, I’m going to go with it.

This is the date collar ring. May of 2000.  This means that I will have to have the tank inspected and re-certified prior to having it filled.

This is the date collar ring. May of 2000. This means that I will have to have the tank inspected and re-certified prior to having it filled.

This does say CGA 320, which can only be used for CO2.

This does say CGA 320, which can only be used for CO2.

This confused me a little.  There are threads on the inside as well as the outside.

This confused me a little. There are threads on the inside as well as the outside.


IPA Bottled… God, I Hate Bottling. And Mold.

I had this IPA sitting in the fermenter a week longer than I anticipated.  It had to be bottled this week, though – next week is likely going to be busy (I’m volunteering with the Cincinnati Queen Bee Half Marathon for part of Saturday, and Sunday will likely be busy with family).  This is a somewhat fitting end to a great weekend… well, the lovely citrus hop aromas was a fitting end, the rest, not so much.

Friday kicked off with Pint Night courtesy of my wife asking for Woodchuck Harvest Cider.  The featured brewery was 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, and in attendance was Randy Mosher (partner and creative director at 5 Rabbit).  I got to talk to Randy for a few minutes, which was awesome since I’ve read two of his books.  I found out he went to the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) “when it was just DAA, before the P”.  I told him I went there for urban planning, in DAAP, after they added the P.  It was a true beer geek moment, and I was savoring it with their Yodo con Leche, which is among the best beers I’ve tasted!

Saturday, my wife arranged for her parents to babysit the kids and we went to Rivertown Brewery and Barrelhouse.  We arrived just behind a bus full of beer geeks.  Initially I was concerned that getting a flight and a seat would be an issue, but fortunately neither was an issue, and we ended up having a nice conversation with a couple that were on the bus.

Sunday began with a little bit of NFL from London and me beginning bottling.

2015-10-04 11.44.20

Insert an F-bomb here.

Things were a little more difficult this time because of mold.  Part of me wants to blame HBF or AHA or something because one of them tweeted out something about it, but it’s really not their fault.  And all this was on the outside.  To add to the mold problem, I didn’t have enough corn sugar, so I decided to use math and use a partial batch of corn sugar and sucrose.

Yup, I are engineer.

Yup, I are engineer.

Once I boiled the sugar solution (upstairs in the kitchen) and moved it downstairs (to the brewery), I decided to wash all the bottles I was going to use.  Normally I don’t because I wash all bottles before taking them into the basement, I decided a change was in order because one of my cats has taken up residence in the basement.  I really don’t want cathair in my IPA.  Then I had to sanitize the bottles.  I don’t own a bottle tree, so dealing with bottles is a painful process of draining bottles on a dish drainer and then setting them on a towel.

Cascade cones from my garden out back!

Cascade cones from my garden out back!

I believe I was able to open the fermenter without getting any mold into the beer.  This was an AWESOME smelling beer!  As soon as I opened the fermenter I was greeted with citrus aromas from the citra, galaxy, and cascade hops I used.  Bottling was without incident, and I now have 39 bottles of green capped goodness conditioning in my basement.

2015-10-04 13.11.12

Green Capped Goodness!

The stats:

78 IBU, 6.3%ABV, OG 1.056, FG 1.008.

Of course, this was not the end of bottling day.  The mold was not only on my fermenter lid, but also in the freezer.  I had to spend some time cleaning it out with antibacterial cleaner.  I decided to remove the thermocouple and go with another solution.  I also decided that making lagers wasn’t as important to me as not bottling anymore, and I decided I’m going to move towards kegging.  I spent a large part of the afternoon on Facebook messenger pelleting a friend of mine with questions.

Cheers until next week!


Another IPA Brew Day

So I decided later than usual on a Saturday to brew.  This is a brew that I wanted to do the prior weekend, but my home AC was on the fritz and adding a bunch of humidity to it would not have been a very smart move.

This was an interesting brew day for two reasons.  A large portion of the brew day was spent thinking that I would be preparing to brew the following day.  I built an electric panel to fix the dangerous setup I had previously.

It's almost done.

It’s almost done.  The blank spot is for a switch.

The thing is, I didn’t have the plug on the cord from the boiler ready.  Once I did that, I added water and started things up.  Then I went to work on preparing the mash tun.  In my last post, I had the stuck sparge from Hell.  I did NOT want that happening again.  I added some plumbing solder in some strategic places and scrubbed down the copper.  At that point (and after messing up and fixing solder joints twice, and since leaks don’t really matter here the mess ups were pretty important to fix), I decided to go ‘all in’ and start mashing.

I love problems that fix themselves!

This brew day had one minor mess up – for my IPA, I have hops at first wort (in the kettle), 15, 5, knockout, and dry.  I did first wort, 15, 10, and knockout.  Oops.  It also had one issue that I thought would be a huge problem – my sparge water kept heating even after the PID said things were off.  I didn’t notice until the water hit 205º F, and the heat was still on despite the output light on the PID controller not being on.  So I unplugged the boiler to keep the water from boiling and let it cool.  Later, when it was time to heat the water back up to sparge temperatures, I plugged the boiler back in and let it heat back up.  And it worked correctly.  And it worked correctly through the entire boil, too.  I love problems that fix themselves!

They leak

Chilling had been an issue in the past, and I still reign supreme at having the most fucked up chilling schemes.  This one isn’t much different.  I bought a plate chiller on Amazon a few weeks ago.  The water inlets and outlets were standard hose fittings.  My house is six years old, and the cheap washing machine lines were something that was on the list of things to replace.  I decided to purchase new stainless steel lines for the washing machine and use the old lines for the plate chiller.

They leak.  Somehow in the process of unhooking them from the back of the washing machine and the wall and putting them on the plate chiller, they decided to leak.  And these weren’t leaks that could be fixed by torquing down the connectors or using pipe tape (which is unnecessary on these connectors).  And I made sure the O-rings were in the hose connectors.

So I did what any sane person would do.  Since I didn’t have enough hose to set the plate chiller in the sink (that would have been optimal), I put the chiller in a bucket.  Which started to fill.  So to avoid flooding part of my basement, I used a small hose to siphon the leaking water out of the main bucket into another so I could dump water without moving the plate chiller around.

This is nuts.

This is nuts. But it worked.

So on the shopping list is two new hoses.  Because had I had not-leaking hoses, the plate chiller would have worked very well.  And even allowing a lot of the trub go through was okay (I use pellet hops).  I’m not sure what temperature I got things down to. Put the ale pail into the fermentation chamber and set it to chill at about 6:30.  I ended up pitching the yeast at midnight or so.

The Recipe

The recipe has changed a little.  I wanted it a little less malty and a little more crisp.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5 gal 60 min 71.4 IBUs 5.4 SRM 1.070 1.013 7.6 %
Actuals 1.051 1.01 5.4 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
American IPA 14 B 1.056 - 1.075 1.01 - 1.018 40 - 70 6 - 15 2.2 - 2.7 5.5 - 7.5 %


Name Amount %
Pale Malt (2 Row) US 7 lbs 50
Vienna Malt 6 lbs 42.86
Cara-Pils/Dextrine 1 lbs 7.14


Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Cascade 2 oz 15 min First Wort Pellet 6.6
Cascade 0.5 oz 15 min Boil Pellet 6.6
Citra 0.5 oz 15 min Boil Pellet 12
Galaxy 0.5 oz 15 min Boil Pellet 11
Cascade 0.5 oz 5 min Boil Pellet 6.6
Citra 0.5 oz 5 min Boil Pellet 12
Galaxy 0.5 oz 5 min Boil Pellet 11
Cascade 1 oz 15 min Aroma Pellet 6.6
Citra 1 oz 15 min Aroma Pellet 12
Galaxy 1 oz 15 min Aroma Pellet 11
Cascade 1 oz 7 days Dry Hop Pellet 6.6
Citra 1 oz 7 days Dry Hop Pellet 11
Galaxy 1 oz 7 days Dry Hop Pellet 11


Name Amount Time Use Type
Irish Moss 0.25 tsp 15 min Boil Fining


Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
American Ale (1056) Wyeast Labs 75% 60°F - 72°F


Step Temperature Time
Mash In 148°F 60 min

Now the wait.  One week (as of time of writing) to add dry hops, and one week to absorb.  Then bottling and another week to two weeks to wait.  I WISH IT WAS DONE ALREADY.


Brew United Competition Soapbox

In amateur radio contests, there is something called a soapbox.  It is text about the contest, things like how it went, equipment used, things tried, etc.  It’s optional and I’ve only used it once when I blew up a radio halfway through a contact and decided to put something like “I killed my radio in this contest. I left it all on the air”.  I thought I was being funny, but I’m not sure anyone else noticed.

Anyway, this is not something I’d do often.  Unlike amateur radio contests (which are planned and frequently prepared for, like a race or other sporting event), up until now all of my competition entries have been afterthoughts – I brew a good beer and then decide to enter it into a competition.  This is because I’m like many other homebrewers (well, the smart ones, anyway) and I brew what I like.  I don’t need a medal or ribbon to tell me I’m pretty good at this or when I screw up (which is rare! knock knock… FUCK [read on]). However, after my other competition entries (only two), I like reading the judge’s comments.  This is particularly because the judge’s comments are generally really nice (or maybe I do make some damn good beer).  Reading many of the comments puts far less emphasis on the number and allows for a realistic view of what they thought.  And my first contest made me realize that commercial examples aren’t always great representations of the style, no matter how much you like them!

However, the Brew United contest was different.  For starters, you have four grains that all must be used – pilsner, flaked wheat, crystal 60, and Munich 10.  You also have to use exactly two from a list of six hops.  You also have a slightly abbreviated list of styles.  You also have prizes (I really want one of those SS Tech steel fermenters)!

My Beer

I decided to brew a Kölsch.  This was partly because I wanted to use that new fermentation chamber I’ve been talking about.  If I was just brewing any Kölsch, I’d probably be 90-95% pilsner and something like 5% honey malt and possibly 5% of something else.

This is different.  I’m required to use at least 1% of crystal 60.  And wheat.

So I got to thinking, Moerlein did a beer called “Altered Pale Ale”, which was a pale ale with a large contingent of wheat.  It had some smoothness that I liked.  So I decided to use a few pounds of wheat in addition to mostly pilsner malt so I could keep it light and within style but possibly add some smoothness without adding turbidity (haziness… I’m an engineer).  I used even less of the Munich 10.  I would have preferred crisp over malty for this, but I do want some sweetness that the Munich 10 might be able to bring.  And that damn crystal 60.  I used 2 ounces, which makes it 1.3% of the grain bill.  I was even joking with the people at my LHBS that this is the first time I’ve ever bought just 2 ounces of a malt!

This arrangement of malts means no toasting or cold steeping, which are two things I did not want to get into.

My hops were Northern Brewer and Perle.  German hops for a German beer.  I was initially thinking Saaz instead of Northern Brewer, but that’s really more of a Czechoslovakian hop.

The Recipe

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5.5 gal 60 min 27.1 IBUs 4.2 SRM 1.046 1.008 4.9 %
Actuals 1.04 1.008 4.2 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
kolsch 5 B 1.044 - 1.05 1.007 - 1.011 18 - 30 3.5 - 5 2.4 - 3.1 4.4 - 5.2 %


Name Amount %
Pilsen Malt 2-Row (Briess) 5.5 lbs 57.14
Wheat, Flaked 3 lbs 31.17
Munich 10L (Briess) 1 lbs 10.39
Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L 2 oz 1.3


Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Northern Brewer 0.5 oz 60 min Boil Pellet 8.5
Perle 1 oz 15 min Boil Pellet 8


Name Amount Time Use Type
Irish Moss 1.00 tsp 15 min Boil Fining


Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
German Ale/Kolsch (WLP029) White Labs 75% 65°F - 69°F


Step Temperature Time
Mash In 148°F 60 min

Brew Day

Before actually getting to brew day, I started checking things.  Last time I brewed, I found that I may have missed my mash temp.  So I decided to check to be sure.  Sure enough, I stuck my thermometer in ice water and it read about 40ºF!  It should have been at 32ºF, so I adjusted it and made sure it was correct by leaving it in the icewater for a while.  I also checked my hygrometer.  I haven’t been hitting my gravities too well, and part of that may be because my hygrometer was reading 0.004-0.006 low (unless I somehow got distilled water that is lighter than water).  I filed away some of the bottom and checked again, and after three or four filings, it was taken care of.  I also bought a Ph meter so I could fill in all the little text boxes in BeerSmith.

A stuck sparge.  But not just any stuck sparge.  This was the stuck sparge from Hell.

Brew day itself started great.  I heated my water 10ºF higher than BeerSmith indicated because it appears my PID controller reads low through part of the range.  I drained and began mashing out and sparging and then it happened… a stuck sparge.  But not just any stuck sparge.  This was the stuck sparge from Hell because it wasn’t stuck because of “normal” reasons, it was stuck because the sparge manifold came off.

This is what Hell looks like.

This is what Hell looks like.  Needless to say, this is getting fixed VERY soon!


After manually sparging with a sieve, I was finally able to start the boil.  Fortunately, boil went without a hitch.  No boilovers or anything, and one minor splash.

Cooling the wort was a bit of a pain.  Since I have an electric system (“system” used liberally), I use what is essentially an immersion chiller backwards.  It doesn’t work too well, but I thought since I have a new cabinet below my counter (raising the counter up about 6″ compared to the image below), I thought it might work better.  It didn’t.

2015-06-14 13.56.38

This still needs work.

I’m definitely going to put a pump on it for next time, and probably also a way for the wort to go back into the kettle and create a whirlpool.  I bought a plate chiller. Anyway, this got the wort down to about 90ºF.  Too hot to pitch and I was 30 minutes from guests arriving, so I decided to put the hot wort in the fermentation chamber and let it ride out for a while.  I fitted a hose to use as a blow-off tube from the fermenter since I had more than 5.5 gallons in the fermenter.

“I’m wondering if I need to include “one partially sanitized dial thermometer” on my recipe when I send this in.”

After a few hours, I ran downstairs for something and went to check the temperature (and I can’t see the side of the bucket too well) and I sanitized the stem and bottom of my dial thermometer.  Unfortunately, it slipped out of my hand.  I’m wondering if I need to include “one partially sanitized dial thermometer” on my recipe when I send this in, because that thermometer is staying in the fermenter until bottling!

Brew day ended at about 2:40 PM.  It started around 10:00 AM.  Timewise, not so bad.

At nearly 9:00 that evening, the wort hit somewhere close to 70ºF and I decided to aerate and pitch the yeast.  I sanitized a whisk and stirred vigorously for a minute to aerate, and I managed to NOT drop the whisk in the wort (but just in case, I sanitized the handle, too!).  I pitched a good bit of yeast, sealed the top, and shut the chamber.

The following morning, I couldn’t see the temperature (this was because of light, not because it froze or anything) and I decided that for now, I need to ensure things are cooling so I removed the temperature probe from the water jug and let it sit out of it (this should make it more “volatile”).

After the issues I experienced during the mash, I wasn’t even remotely interested in checking my efficiency.  But I did want to check progress and taste after a week, so I opened up the laptop and BeerSmith and input the brewing session data I recorded on my tablet.  75% mash efficiency and about 65% brewhouse efficiency.  Compared to my last brew, that’s a 14% improvement in mash efficiency and a 5% improvement in brewhouse efficiency and a slight improvement over the brew before that (where I had mash problems and ended up recirculating some mash).  So I’m happy despite the difficulties that I’ve since repaired.

After a week of fermenting and some interesting smells in the fermentation chamber and relaxing, trying not to worry, and drinking some homebrew, I opened the fermenter to check gravity and taste.  It tasted somewhat phenolic, but I could EASILY tell it needed another week.  Color was around where I expected it to be, and gravity was 1.010. Slightly low compared to what BeerSmith thinks it should be, but given the turbidity of the sample it’ll go down.

Spent Grains

I decided to do something I haven’t done before – use the spent grains for something other than compost.  I laid a bit of the spent grain out on freezer paper in my dehydrator and set it up.  I have the grain about 1/2″ deep.  The following morning, there was still moisture under the surface of the grain, so I (using my fingers) turned the grain so other parts could be dried.  It took maybe 18 hours (possibly less, I had to work while they were drying).  When I checked on them after coming home from work the following day, the basement smelled WONDERFUL.  It was a mix between bread and cookies.

Spent Grains in the Dehydrator

Spent Grains in the Dehydrator

the basement smelled WONDERFUL.  It was a mix between bread and cookies.

I gave all the spent grains to one of my directs at work that does a lot of baking.  I’ll probably keep the next batch once I figure out what to do with it.

The Taste

The final/first taste from the bottle was still a little estery.  I saw a recent post by The Brülosopher where he ran into ester problems with (wait for it… WLP029!).  I started looking into it (as suggested by one of the commenters on Brühlosopher’s post), and found this post on BeerSmith’s Forum.  I may have fermented too cold causing the production of Isomyl Acetate, which is the classic banana ester.  I have noticed that there is a major issue between the temperature reported by the Raspberry Pi and the temperature in the chamber.

The Appearance

I’m pleased with the appearance.  It is nice and clear and the carbonation seems to me to be correct.

Beautifully clear and nicely carbonated!

Beautifully clear and nicely carbonated!