Coffee from a vintage vacuum pot

Maybe two or three years ago after returning from Japan, I decided I wanted to try replicating the siphon coffee that we were served for our first breakfast. I some research and found out that they used to be very common in the US before auto-percolators took off in the 1960s and were known as vacuum pots because the brewing process created a vacuum, in the bottom chamber, drawing the brewed coffee down into it. I then bought a Nicro Model 500 off Craigslist with the metal filter, figuring it would be less prone to breakage than glass and easier to clean than a cloth filter, which is the style that is used today in Japan.

The problem is, I could never make good coffee. The water wouldn’t heat up to the suggested 205 degrees and it would clog instead of draining.

Then, this past month, I tried it again and it made excellent coffee. It was complex, deep, clean, and even warmer at first sip than a pour-over. I used:

  • a light generic breakfast roast
  • a 17.5:1 ratio
  • a grind size similar to pre-ground drip coffee
  • 900g of water, enough for three mugs of coffee
  • no temperature measurement, only turning down stove and waiting for water to stop bubbling in the upper chamber
  • coffee steeping for around a minute, then turned off gas and let coffee drain

Full brew time was somewhere from 5-7 minutes. When coffee has drawn down properly it creates a mound over the filter and appears dry, like this:

I started thinking how I might have lucked into such a good cup and I realized that a big batch, high ratio, drip grind generic coffee, and no temp control is probably how the device was meant to be used in a 1950s kitchen or diner, where there wouldn’t have been fancy grinders, temp probes, or even time to fuss over the coffee like I would with a manual pour-over.

Fresh off a few great cups, I tried brewing an Ethiopian light roast and it went right back to clogging from all the fines. I guess to use this siphon, I have to keep my coffee styles from the 1950s as well.

DIY: Super Nintendo nostalgia on your TV

I’m going to put this in Brewing, as in your own homebrew Super Nintendo, since it’s the best category I have for now.

When we were in Montreal, we stumbled on this cafe that had a Super Nintendo with Super Mario for customers. It was the coolest idea, video games while you enjoy your coffee. I suppose the area was for kids, given the low ceilings and bright colors. We enjoyed ourselves regardless, and I resolved to work up something similar.

Now, back in New York, I started looking into getting a SNES for our apartment. Turns out they can be had for $40-80 used on eBay, with an extra $20-25 or so per game. Watch out because some of these are remade hardware and not original. For $100 or so you can get yourself set up with some still functional nostalgia. However, given that you can get a Gamecube or other more modern system for even less, you’re paying for the nostalgia factor.

Materials

I found the low-budget route: OpenEmu, a free open source emulator for Mac, has support for SNES, Genesis, original Nintendo, and more. Just add a controller and connect to your TV.

Here’s the route I went:

Total cost: $32

Setup

OpenEmu runs from a folder without much of an installation process. You don’t actually need a controller or TV, a laptop monitor with keyboard controls will work to start. Here are the steps:

  1. Download OpenEmu
  2. Hold the control key and then double-click to override the security settings for unrecognized applications
  3. Google SNES ROMs and download. Watch out for popups and spam. Drag-and-drop the ROMs to load them into OpenEmu
  4. Plug in controller
  5. Go to Preferences > Contols to select the USB gamepad and map it to the proper keys. OpenEmu will lead you through this process
  6. Link your computer to TV using the HDMI cable (or preferred option)
  7. Play

Next steps

There’s a SNES mini console being re-released by Nintendo at the end of September 2017. It will come with two controllers and 20+ games for $80. It’s a good place to start if you’re looking for a list of must-try games for your new system.

Now that I have the SNES all set up with Mario, Kirby, and the rest, I’m going to head back to Google and find Sonic the Hedgehog. If you’d like to step even further back in time to play Pitfall! or Centipede, there is support for the Atari 2600 / 7800.

Honey Smacks Honey Brown Ale

The following recipe was of my own design for our Brewminaries cereal beer showcase, pouring mid-August.

I chose Honey Smacks and decided to make a brown ale to showcase the cereal and for nostalgia reasons, since when I was in Syracuse we used to drink J.W. Dundee (Genesee) Honey Brown fairly often, it being a cheap Upstate New York beer and all.

This is actually riff off one of my oatmeal stout recipes, the base malt is a 95% 2-row and 5% rye mix from a beer kit they were giving out at this Beerland event and I swapped out the oatmeal for cereal.

Recipe and steps

It’s my usual 3 gallon brew-in-a-bag batch, so I’ve shown both percentages and weight.

  • 6.2% – 6.4oz – Caramel / Crystal 60L
  • 5.2% – 5.3oz – Chocolate Malt 350L
  • 5.1% – 5.2oz – Roasted Barley 300L
  • 60.9% – 3lb 14oz – 2-Row Barley
  • 3.5% – 3.8oz – Honey Malt
  • 1.2% – 1.3oz – Midnight Wheat 550L

Mash for 45 minutes at 152F. According to Bru’n Water, I should make the mash more alkali, so I added 0.5g of pickling lime to the mash. Turns out I could’ve also just diluted the mash to reduce the acidity, though on a positive note the lime added calcium, it’s Ca(OH)2, which I’ve read improves the character of the beer. Pickling lime can be found at Kalyustan’s in Manhattan, it’s also used for softening corn for pozole.

Next step, add the cereal for 30 minutes and add some rice hulls so the wort drains properly.

  • 15.6% Honey Smacks cereal (Malt-o-meal version)
  • 0.25lb rice hulls

Boil for 60 minutes, 30 IBUs. I got a little extra in the 1oz hops package, so I put it in as an aroma addition.

  • 0.5 oz East Kent Goldings 60 mins
  • 0.3 oz EKG, 30 mins
  • 0.25 tsp Irish moss, 15 mins
  • 0.27 oz EKG, 10 mins

Danstar London ESB yeast.

Brew day went as expected. I followed all the additions and then used the chiller coil to get the wort down to 65F in around 20 minutes. I topped off the fermenter with some boiled water, added in rehydrated yeast, and put the fermenter in the minifridge on 64F to ferment. OG was 1.055.

The yeast started off quick and was bubbling like crazy by the next morning. By 36-48 hours later, it was completely done and wouldn’t budge from a FG of 1.024-1.025. Quick ferment but low attenuation, same as last time with this yeast. In the future I’ll try a more attenuative yeast like Nottingham or S-04.

Final stats and conclusion

OG 1.055
FG 1.024
ABV 4.1%

Tastes like Honey Smacks and had a bit of a funky taste at 14 days (3 in keg) that has completely disappeared at 18 days (7 in keg).

The beer was ready quick, tastes even better now, with the roastiness really coming through. It’s a mild, poundable summer beer, since it’s cold, sweet, and only 4.1% alcohol. It will be roughly 5 weeks old by the time I bring it to the August Brewminaries meeting for our showcase, so the malt character may smooth out further by then and taste even better.

DIY: Roast Your Own Coffee (RYOC): Technique

Perhaps you love coffee and would like to experiment, you may be looking to replicate the fresh coffee you tried in some cafe, or you may simply be starting to question why you spend so much to buy roasted coffee from someone else. Coffee is an industrial product like beer, and also like beer, you can create it yourself, giving up some quality control but gaining  a much fresher product.

Introduction

There is a lot of information on roasting your own coffee, starting with green coffee beans, none of it particularly definitive. If there was one book that touched all aspects of the process, it was Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival by Kenneth Davids. Sweet Marias, a sourcer for green coffee, also has an excess of material (for free).

Generally, there are three characteristics to consider when roasting your own coffee:

  • color,
  • sound, and
  • temperature.

Experience with these variables will allow you to know when your coffee is done roasting. Keeping track of your results is key to recognizing a pattern of complete roasts.

To vastly oversimplify, coffee is done roasting when it has started “popping” and then concluded and has a uniform brown to dark-brown color. There is a simple technique to hand-roasting, which involves rotating the beans so they don’t scorch, either using a Whirley Pop, as I do, or another machine, such as an air popper or home roaster.

Color

Roasted coffee is grouped by color, which makes sense because it’s the most apparent feature for the consumer. Dark roasts tend to have more caramelized or burnt flavors, while lighter roasts tend to showcase brighter fruit flavors. Too light, however, and the coffee will look inconsistent and have a grainy, not pungent smell once roasted.

Home roasting is not particularly precise, though it is fairly simple to stop your roast somewhere between City+ and Full City+ on the color scale above.

Sound

After constant agitation and a low flame, my coffee starts to “pop” after around 4 minutes and 30 seconds. I’ve tried at lower temperatures and drawn out this phase for 6-8 minutes though have found I can repeat my results with a slightly faster roast. After usually 1 1/2 or 2 minutes more, the “first crack” is complete and there is a brief lull at 6 minutes. This is a signal that the lighter roast process is complete. Depending on your level of heat, this process may take as much as 10-12 minutes.

You may stop your coffee here and transfer to a strainer to cool if you prefer a typical East Coast roast. The diagram below shows the interaction between first and second crack:

Another minute or two, often around 8 minutes for me, the “second crack” begins. Following the roast process to this point begins to create a Vienna or French roast. At this level, burnt flavors start to overwhelm the coffee pungency. You’ll know you’ve reached this level by the dark brown color and spots of oil that appear on the coffee beans. After the second crack, the beans also appear both larger and lighter than previously. Vienna will be sligthly oily, while French roast beans will be larger, lighter, very dark, and very oily. Going past French roast risks a fire.

Temperature

While I am able to create consistent results controlling my stove heat, time, and color, I have also inserted a metal candy thermometer into the lid of my Whirley Pop. I heat the empty container to 400 degrees before dumping in 1/3 lb of green beans. After a few minutes the air temperature in the roaster tends to bottom out slightly over 200 degrees before it starts to rise again. When my roast is complete, around 5-6 minutes, the air temperature has risen to around 385 degrees.

Conclusion

After I’ve roasted my beans, which tends to take around 10 minutes from start to finish, I quickly dump the beans into a strainer. There is a lot of papery skin that flies everywhere at this point. I pour the beans back and forth between the strainer and a Pyrex container, constantly shaking and wiping to remove any of the papery chaff.

Once the coffee is cool enough to touch, I leave it in the Pyrex and cover lightly overnight. This is to allow the initial carbon dioxide released from roasting to off-gas. Before the roasting process, incidentally, coffee can be stored somewhat haphazardly at room temperature and doesn’t have to be vacuum sealed. While green, the beans are hard like kidney beans and take a year or more to go stale.

Following the roast and overnight rest, I place my coffee in Mason jars where it continues to off-gas. The coffee smells and tastes great after about 3 days, if not closer to a week. Some suggest 24-48 hours, but I leave mine a bit longer. Leave the beans unground and it will maintain its smell and flavor for weeks, if not months.

DIY: Roast Your Own Coffee (RYOC): Equipment

Roasting your own coffee is a fairly simple process that requires a minimum of finesse. Even better, time investment is only slightly more than making a batch of popcorn. Whether you’re looking to roast for your own daily consumption or to add flavor to a home-brewed stout or porter, here’s a primer on how to get started with a minimum of equipment.

Equipment

There are several approaches to equipment, from a simple to complex, and from garage sale to barista level budget. Here are some of your options, starting with the simplest:

Iron skillet and wooden spoon

According to various sources, a simple skillet over a flame was how coffee was once roasted and is still roasted traditionally in Ethiopia and elsewhere. When the beans heat, they tend to pop, so some kind of lid would be in order.

Manual popcorn popper and candy thermometer

Many 19th-century kitchens had a revolving iron drum that was held over the flame, rotisserie-style to more easily toast the beans without burning. The Whirley Pop works on a similar principle, rotating the beans with a metal arm at the bottom of the pot.

This method is simple, inexpensive, and allows roasting of half a pound or more at each sitting, though you’ll need a gas stove for maximum effect. This is the approach I’ve chosen to start.

Electric air popper (1980s-style)

Most vintage air poppers have over-engineered heating units that are up to the task of roasting green coffee, though the paper-like husk may pose a fire risk if it isn’t vented up and out of the beans by the popper. Many newer models have a thermostat to shut off the roaster should it get too hot which must be disabled to get the proper results. This is a fire hazard, though I haven’t verified it myself.

Home roaster

Various companies sell purpose-made home roasting devices that function by heating the beans inside a rotating metal or glass drum. These devices, which run from $150 to $1000 or more must be rested between batches and handle a maximum of half a pound of green coffee.

Since I was looking for a minimal initial investment, I didn’t choose this approach.

Sample roaster

Commercial sample roasters cost several thousand dollars and are the way the pros develop their recipes with small batches of green coffee beans.

Breaking the rules: Grodziskie, a Polish smoked wheat beer

Of all the beers I’ve tried over my life, for better or worse, none is more indelibly stamped into my brain than the Kosciuszko Polish Smoked Wheat from Yards Brewing in Philadelphia. Nearly ten years later I still remember its intense smokiness.

Brewed alongside their popular Ales of the Revolution series honoring Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, it was named after Tadeus Kosciusko, a Polish general who volunteered in the American Revolution.

In taste, Yards’ smoked wheat was akin to an American wheat. In aroma, it resembled a large crispy plate of bacon. Unfortunately, it was never served outside the brewery. Regardless of its historical accuracy, Yards’ beer served as my introduction to Grodziskie, the style from which this beer was inspired.

Grodziskie is described by BJCP as having a gentle oak smoke flavor, a light body, pale yellow to medium gold, and crisp finish with high carbonation. Notably, “a bacon/ham smoke flavor is inappropriate”, as are murkiness or sourness.

Vital Statistics (BJCP)

OG: 1.028-1.032
FG: 1.006-1.012
IBUs: 20-35
SRM: 3-6
ABV: 2.5-3.3%

Recipe Research

Luckily, stumbling through Google and Wikipedia led me to a historical research paper by a Polish brewing association which described everything from water chemistry, to grain selection, to step mash procedure gleaned from the original brewery records, as Ron Pattinson does on his blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

Much like Mr. Pattinson’s recipes, Grodziskie breaks a lot of rules for what we consider “standard”, starting with the grist. According to their research, the most popular version of the beer was made from 100% smoked wheat malt and surprisingly low in alcohol for a Central European beer, only 3.1%.

Next, the mash. Strangely, the prime saccharification rests are skipped, heading straight from a protein rest at 126F up to 158F by infusion, presumably to promote body despite its low alcohol content. The high mineral content of the wort water adds further to the beer’s unique flavor.

Next, it combines both lager and ale yeasts in an open fermentation. Yet, unlike open-fermented German Hefeweizen, an ale, brewers sought to minimize phenols and esters by fermenting cool and adding finings to reach a crystal-clear final product.

Historical Statistics

IBUs: 22
EBC: 9-9.6
ABV: 3.1%

Step mash: 30 min at 100F, 30-60 min at 126F, 30 min at 158F, 168F

Fermentation: ale and lager yeast for three days at 57-61F

Bottling: fined using isinglass, high carbonation, bottle conditioned for 3-5 weeks.

My Recipe

Grain: 3.7 lb Oak smoked wheat malt, 1.1 oz Midnight wheat (oops!)

Mash schedule: 30 min at 126F, 30 min at 158F, 10 min at 168F

Boil: 2 hours

Hops: 0.85 oz Hallertauer (2.5% AA) at 105 min, 0.36 oz Hallertauer (2.5% AA) at 30 min, roughly 22 IBUs total

Yeast: Nottingham

Chill to 65F. Ferment in low 60s for at least 3 days. Carbonate to 3.5 vols.

Brewing My Recipe

Since the Polish research was from the original brewery in Grodzisk, I figured I’d let their exact estimates guide my recipe. However, with no gravity estimates, I used BeerSmith to calculate roughly how much malt I would need.

I misread EBC as SRM, so the beer will be a bit darker than expected from my accidental corrective addition of Midnight wheat. In the future, the recipe would be fine without any additional color, 9.6 EBC is rougly 4-5 SRM, nearly identical to the color of the smoked wheat malt alone.

For my mash, I decided to use water additions of gypsum and calcium chloride to achieve the right pH balance, similar to the reported values from the brewery’s well. After starting with New York’s neutral tap water, this called for adding roughly 1.1 g/gal of gypsum and 0.44 g/gal of calcium chloride. These were impossible to measure with my hops scale which is only accurate down to the gram, so I eyeballed it. Next time I’ll have a 0.1 gram scale for better precision.

Starting the mash, I skipped the acid rest suggested in the literature and went right to the protein rest, followed by saccharification and mash-out. What a gooey oatmeal-like mess an all-wheat mash makes with brew-in-a-bag! After a while, it’s impossible to squeeze any extra liquid out, next time I’ll have to compensate by adding more grain.

Historically, this beer had a boil of 2-2.5 hours. I was in no rush, and using infusion instead of direct heat sped up my mash, so I boiled for the full 2 hours.

It was called for 80% of the hops to be added after 15 minutes and the remaining 20% at 30 minutes from the end of the boil, a rule which I roughly followed.

Lastly, a mix of clean and attenuative lager and ale yeasts was used historically to ensure complete fermentation. I split the difference and went with the most lager-like and attenuative ale yeast that was in-stock, Nottingham.

After chilling the wort to 65-70F and adding it to the fermenter, I set my temperature control at 63F and called it a night.

Conclusion

Fermentation was nearly complete after three days, going from OG 1.031 to 1.010. This put me right in the middle of the BJCP range. My first impression was the subtle smokiness, which has only a slight “bacon” smell and its impressive body despite the low ABV.

Hoping to get up to 3.1% ABV suggested in the aforementioned historical recipe, I gave it a little extra shake, raised the temperature, and let it sit for another few days, a week in total, and then it’ll be kegged. I’ll post an update once it has lagered and is fully ready to serve.

Featured image by Kpalion (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

DIY: Hand-Pump Beer Line Cleaner

We’ve all been served from a dirty draft line at some point, leaving us with a flat, soapy flavored beer lacking any of the usual hops “bite” or maltiness that we remember.

Since I pieced together my minimalist kegging setup, I have left StarSan no-rinse sanitizer in the lines to avoid this, hoping that the disinfectant would keep them clean and microbe-free. However, from experience, I know that StarSan can also leave them sticky and it’s not a cleaner, only a sanitizer.

Either way, eventually they need to be cleaned. Now is the time.

Many people use a spare keg to hold cleaning fluid or simply use their empty beer keg to flush the lines. I didn’t have a keg or the space to spare, and I didn’t want to spend $40-50 on a purpose-built setup for something I’d be doing once every month or so, so I built my own.

Here are the ingredients, which I purchased at the local Home Depot:

  • Pump sprayer, 1-gal (RL Flo-Master Model 56HD)
  • Teflon tape
  • Brass coupling: 3/8 in OD x 1/4 in OD (Watts LFA-109)
  • Brass flare fitting: 1/4 in FL x 1/4 in MIP (Watts LFA-80)

Total Cost: ~$15

Steps:

  1. Unscrew the green nozzle on the sprayer. This is a 3/8 in threaded connection. Wrap this connection with Teflon tape. I wrapped 4 times which seemed sufficient.
  2. Screw on the 3/8 x 1/4 brass coupling.
  3. Wrap the threads on the MIP end of the 1/4 FL x 1/4 MIP brass flare fitting with teflon tape. Screw the MIP non-tapered end of the fitting onto the coupling.

couplings
Packaging for the two brass fittings you’ll need

The flare end will face outwards and connect to clean your tubing, it probably will not need tape.

Your pump sprayer will no longer hold its own pressure since you’ve replaced the nozzle. Instead, connect the pump sprayer to the MFL disconnect on your keg before pumping.

Others have done a similar project, only using a pin-lock keg disconnect instead of a 1/4 flare. If you’re looking to clean from the keg disconnect through the tubing, this is a good option, though you’ll have to buy the parts at a homebrew store, probably online. See this thread for more details.

A cautious approach to bottle carbonation

Photo, from L-R: Le Chouffe, Flying Dog, Weistephan 330 mL and Orval bottles lined up after weighing.

In all my years of homebrewing, I’ve never worried about bottle bombs, i.e. when a bottle of carbonated home-brewed beer explodes, though in all those years I’ve always aged my beer and bottled to a standard 2.5 volumes of CO2. This time, however, I may be pushing the pressure limits of the standard US 12-ounce bottle.

My current beer, which I plan to bottle condition, is a German hefeweizen. Bottling it in the traditional way calls for 3.3-4.5 volumes of CO2. The effervescence and yeast that settles in the bottom of the bottle are hallmarks of this style, characteristics which I would lose were I to keg. Popping the bottle then releases the pent-up carbonation, forcing the yeast and its distinctive flavor back into suspension.

In true German style, I want to be cautious and methodical about bottling this beer. Unfortunately, there is little to no rigorous information out there about bottle strength, i.e. how much pressure a bottle will hold before it explodes. In the name of science, I’ve collected some of what I’ve found.

Bottle bombs, why?

Anecdotally, bottle bombs happen. Here are several possible culprits:

  • Bottling before fermentation is complete;
  • Stuck fermentation restarts as weather warms up;
  • Infection from bacteria;
  • Newbie beer priming accident, i.e. adding sugar directly to bottles, adding too much, not dissolving sugar into warm water first;
  • Flaws in glass, especially with lightweight non-returnable bottles;
  • Too much priming sugar for strength of vessel.

With temperature control, patience, sanitation, and proper measurement, you may be able to eliminate most of these hazards. The last two hazards, however, require a more cautious approach to selecting bottles.

German engineering

In Germany, and in Belgium, beers are often carbonated in the bottle, and the bottle returned and reused when empty. They are sturdier than the average bottle since they must stand up to both pressure and multiple uses. For these reasons, many foreign beers, even at smaller sizes, have heavier bottles.

I’ll assume that the 11.2oz (330mL) German Weihenstephan Hefeweizen bottle that I purchased at the local beer shop has enough strength to contain the Hefe I fermented at home with the Weihenstephan yeast strain, strength being defined here as bottle mass over volume.

That is, since the Germans tend to overengineer things, I should be safe if my bottles are of the same weight as the Weihenstephan bottle or stronger, per ounce. Fair enough assumption, right?

Measuring bottle weight per ounce of beer

Luckily, I have a local source for Belgian and other imported beer bottles, the local bar. Here are the results of my measurements, using an electronic scale, from strongest to weakest. I’ve highlighted the two hefeweizen bottles for comparison:

    1. Orval – custom, grenade-shaped, Belgian – 12.24 oz. weight/11.2 fluid oz. = 1.09
    2. Le Chouffe – custom 330 mL, Belgian – 9.98/11.2 = .89
    3. Del Borgo – custom, teardrop-shaped 330 mL, Italian – 9.03/11.2 = .81
    4. Trillum – custom large format 750 mL, US – 20.11/25.4 = .79
    5. Jack’s Abby – 500 mL, US – 13.4/16.9 = .79
    6. Weihenstephan – standard 500 mL, German – 13.26/16.9 = .78
    7. Unidentified – 330 mL Trader Joe’s Belgian Blonde, I believe – 8.54/11.2 = .76
    8. Barrier – jug-shaped 500 mL, US – 12.59/16.9 = .74
    9. Baltika – custom, hourglass-shaped, Russian – 12.52/16.9 = .74
    10. Samuel Smith – standard British 12 oz. – 8.61/12 = .72
    11. Weihenstephan – standard 330 mL, German – 7.76/11.2 = .69
    12. Stone – standard US 12 oz. – 8.11/12 = .68
    13. Rogue – standard US 12 oz. – 8.08/12 = .67
    14. Xingu – lightweight 500 mL, Brazil – 10.55/16.9 = .62
    15. Flying Dog – standard US 12 oz. – 7.13/12 = .59
    16. Unidentified – stubby 12 oz., US – 6.91/12 = .58

Findings

Several trends became apparent after weighing a lot of bottles.

Standard US bottles are the weakest. While there were several US breweries with strong bottles, they tended to be large format or one-off special beers. Standard crown-top 12 oz. beer bottles, what you see for 90% of the market, are actually very thin. They’re all thinner than the weakest German bottle. Since they are recyclable, not refillable, this makes sense.

Belgian bottles are the strongest. Orval was the only bottle to weigh over one ounce in weight per fluid ounce of beer it held. For the overly cautious, you couldn’t go wrong with a combination of Orval or classic 500 mL hefeweizen bottles.

“Standard” crown-tops aren’t standard. While they may look the same, the standard 12 oz. glass bottle – think Saranac, Sam Adams, Brooklyn Lager – is not always the same weight. Notice the difference between Rogue and Stone vs. Flying Dog.

German hefeweizen bottles aren’t even that strong. Surprisingly, the smaller of the two German hefeweizen bottles came in near the bottom of the rankings. In a way this is good news, because it means more bottles are bomb-proof. Either that or the Germans have been cutting corners lately to supply the export market and these are actually engineered to be disposable.

Post-mortem

Several months after bottling, I have had no bottle bombs. The (over-)carbed beer must be poured into a separate glass because it slowly foams out of the bottle, which is to be expected. All in all this experiment was a success, as it produced a tasty true-to-style ale. I can’t say whether weaker bottles would have been fine, but I am glad to not have found out the hard way as I mop and pick glass shards out of the ceiling.

DIY: Dipstick for Measuring Water Level

Ever finish brewing your beer and add it to the fermenter, only to notice that the water level is way short of the mark? It happens to the best of us or at the least those of us that don’t have a brewpot with gradations etched on the inside. Making your own dipstick is the easiest solution.

You’ll need the following:

  • Wooden spoon
  • Measuring cup or bucket with measures
  • Sharp knife
  • Brewpot

Then follow the improvised the following steps that I improvised:

  1. Since I’ve been doing 3-gallon batches, I measured and filled the pot with 2.5 gallons of water, 1/2 gallon short of my target.
  2. Then, I touched the spoon to the bottom of the pot and used the knife to score the spoon. Note: As you make your marks, set the pot on your stove and check that you measure the same side of the pot each time. Our floor is crooked and thus the pot will give different measurements on one side or the other.
  3. Next, I added 1/2 gallon of water and made a mark again on the spoon at 3 gallons, and again at 3.5 gallons. You’ll use want to mark 3 or 4 lines on either side of your usual target volume.
  4. To finish, extend the lines across the spoon by digging in with the knife, then mark it with a sharpie as a note.

There you have it, an easy way to measure brew pot volume using the things you have lying around your house. Enjoy.

 

DIY: Kegerator and Fermentation Chamber (Part II: Construction and Assembly)

This post continues where I left off in Part I: Concept and Equipment. Read on for the steps to constructing and assembling the kegerator and fermentation chamber from parts and equipment discussed earlier.

If you’re in a pinch, you could also just skip right to the chase by reading on and grabbing the tools as you go.

Steps

Making the kegerator was one semi-difficult manual task followed by a lot of assembly and improvisation using duct tape.

Step 1: Make the hole for the faucet

Use the electric drill and 7/8″ hole saw to drill a hole in the door of the fridge. Drilling through the door allows you to be sure you won’t hit any coolant lines or electronics. The door is hollow, I promise. It’s also thinner than the sides and thus easier to punch through. After much consideration, I drilled the hole right in the middle about 4″ from the top for the sake of symmetry. Having the faucet near the top also means you won’t have to bend over as much to pour a beer.

To make the hole I just pressed really hard until the drill bit in the middle started to catch and the hole-sized saw followed soon after. I measured the same distance down on the inside of the fridge and punched a hole through the plastic to meet the one on the outside.

Note: Don’t touch any of the metal while you’re in the process of making the hole or you will burn yourself from the heat developed from drill bit friction (whoops!)

Step 2: Move the freezer unit

fridge_freezer

The U-shaped roll of metal you may have in your minifridge is the freezer. It is also the cooling unit and contains coils that circulate coolant. Unfortunately you’ll need to move the freezer to allow space for the faucet shank, tubes, and clearance for the fermenter and keg.

At the top you can see the bolts that hold the freezer to the top of the fridge. They are plastic bolts that serve to lock the unit in place, though it is not screwed in place.

The steps to move the freezer are as follows:

  1. Carefully but firmly press the freezer backwards until it clicks out of the bolts.
  2. Disconnect the clip-in thermometer probe (metal wire) and its casing from the underside of the freezer
  3. Carefully bend the freezer to the back of the fridge and duct-tape it in place.

fridge_bent

As noted, I later used duct tape to affix the freezer to the back of the fridge. It hasn’t moved since. This will give you plenty of space to work with for your fermentations without having to do something difficult like remove the door panel to make extra space.

Step 3: Attach the faucet and shank

As noted above, the Perlick faucet and shank can both be attached using the faucet wrench. It isn’t necessary to over-tighten this connection, just place the sheath between the faucet and the tighten it enough that the faucet doesn’t move on its own. This sheath may also be called a flange.

Once you’ve attached everything together, screw on the small black tap handle.

faucet shank

The photos above are the outside (tap) and inside (shank) of the kegerator’s beer faucet.

Step 4: Assemble the lines

Connecting all the various tubes, nuts, and bolts is a bit of a pain, but once you’ve done it once, you won’t have to take it apart for a long while. The next time you disassemble it should be for periodic cleaning in roughly every 2 months.

Beginning at the keg, here is the order in which the connections should be attached on the beer side:

  • Three-pin keg post ->
  • MFL Pin Lock liquid quick disconnect -> 1/4″ flare swivel nut ->
  • 1/4″ barb -> 5 ft of 3/16″ ID x 7/16″ OD Thickwall PVC Beer line ->
  • Hex nut -> 3/16″ tail piece -> gasket ->
  • 7/8″ lock nut -> 7/8″ shank ->
  • Flange -> Perlick 630SS flow control faucet

At either end of the tubing it is good practice to add a hose clamp. On the liquid side I used easy-turn 1/2″ clamps. On the gas tubing I used 5/8″ clamps.

Here is the order of connection for the gas side:

  • Two-pin keg post ->
  • MFL Pin Lock gas quick disconnect -> 1/4″ flare swivel nut ->
  • 3/8″ barb -> 4 ft of 5/16″ ID x 9/16″ OD Thickwall PVC Gas line ->
  • Regulator -> CO2 tank

For the regulator to tank connection, make sure you tighten it down using the adjustable wrench or gas will escape everywhere. Spoken from experience. This particular regulator has a built-in rubber gasket, as seen in the photo below, but some will require a gasket at that connection point.

regulator regulator_seal

Note: Care should be taken when connecting the parts because a slow gas leak can drain your tank. Tighten and check all gaskets and connections, even the ones on the keg itself, by spraying some Star-San or soapy water on them to see if they bubble.

Step 5: Disassemble, clean, reassemble keg

The graphic below from the American Homebrewers Association shows how all the parts fit together.

IMG_1912

When you purchase a used keg, it’s likely to come complete with ancient liquid or residue, thus requiring cleanup via:

  1. disassembly,
  2. soaking in PBW for 30 minutes, and
  3. sanitizing with Star San,
  4. reassembly,
  5. fitting keg into fridge.

PBW and Star San can both be reused to wash multiple items if they aren’t too dirty. Soak everything for at least 30 minutes the first time around and then soak in sanitizer. Star San sanitizer saved in a spray bottle is a great way to sanitize an area without having to submerge everything.

Most kegs are around 8.25-9″ in diameter, which was the exact depth of the floor area of my minifridge. Mine fit perfectly once I raised it up above the door lip using a styrofoam wedge.

If you’re extra lucky, you’ll find a fridge without a compressor bump, which would give you space for 2 kegs. If unlucky, you may have to remove the interior plastic on the door to capture an extra few inches of space. I was in between. Always measure before you buy your fridge.

See Cleaning and Sanitizer under Brewing 101: Building the Brewhouse (Equipment) for more.

Step 6: Fermenter and Temperature Control

I purchased the Ss Brewtech Mini Brew Bucket, which is really just a half-sized fancy version of the standard brew bucket. Luckily, it fits snugly into the fridge if you reinsert the bottom shelf. To hook up my temperature controller, I did the following:

  1. threaded the temperature probe and cord through the space between the door and the body of the fridge on the hinge side;
  2. duct taped a sock to the fermenter as insulation; and
  3. slid the temperature probe under the sock to sit against the side of the fermenter;
  4. plugged the fridge into the cooling socket of the controller and the controller to the wall.

fermenter temp_controller

Now the fridge turns on only when the liquid inside the fermenter warms up above the set point, which for my last brew was 64 F.

That’s it for the fermenter and kegerator. If you’re new to the brewing process, check out my Brewing 101 series from earlier this month.