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Friday, September 21, 2012

A Non-beer post

I haven't felt good about this election. I don't actively dislike Mitt Romney, but I don't trust him. He seems far too willing to say what he thinks we want to hear.

I genuinely like Barack Obama. He seems to be a good man, doing what he thinks is best. However, I haven't agreed with most of what he's done.

I started to poke around a bit, wondering if there wasn't another choice, and I found this link.

I think you should listen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Not Everything Is Perfect

Over the last several months, I've been conducting a brewing experiment that, uh, hasn't gone well. But, I keep going back to an old quote, I think attributed to Henry Ford. "Every failure is just one step closer to success."

(Artful screen dissolve as we flash back.)

I was eating some cold breakfast cereal one day when I happened to read the ingredients. Sugar was second. A lightning bolt of inspiration hit me, and I thought, "How could I get this into a beer?"

ATTEMPT NO. 1 - I made a one gallon batch of porter, using a pound of dry extract, eight ounces of crystal malt, eight ounces of chocolate malt, half an ounce of hops, and three cups of cereal. I tossed the cereal into the boil. The flavor was delicious, but there was WAY too much sediment.

ATTEMPT NO. 2 - I decided to try all-grain, and include the cereal as part of the mash. This way, any sediment from the cereal would be removed with the spent grain. Color and sediment were just what I had hoped for, but the flavor wasn't quite there. And, after a couple of weeks, I heard "BLAM!". Almost every bottle had exploded.

ATTEMPT NO. 3 - I made a second all-grain batch, but this time I increased the cereal, and halved the priming sugar. The flavor was close to what I had hoped for. The bottles were OK for about 3 weeks, but I heard one go off, and immediately moved the rest to a safe place.

And that's where I am, now. The question I keep asking is, why are the bottles exploding? Is there something wrong with my mash? Not getting enough conversion, and a secondary fermentation taking place? Is there some thing else in the cereal, retarding the yeast? Should I just let it ferment longer? I know there will be an Attempt No. 4, I just haven't worked out the parameters, yet.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What Kind Of Brewer Are You?

Today, I want to discuss for a moment the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law. There's a really interesting article at Wikipedia. Here's the link.

Essentially, the law restricted the ingredients for beer to water, barley, hops and yeast. Obviously, not many American breweries come close to that. For homebrewers, there are some people who try to brew according to the old law.

I don't really have a firm stand either way, even though I personally have brewed with, cocoa, molasses, and breakfast cereal. My philosophy on brewing has always been that there's room for all of us. I've said both here and in my podcast that the equipment doesn't make you less or more of a homebrewer. If you own a Mr. Beer, or a 15-barrel conical fermenter, you're still a homebrewer.

The same goes for ingredients. It makes no difference if you make nothing but classic English brown ales or German schwarzbier; Or if a normal part of your brewing day is scanning the kitchen or supermarket for fermentables. All brewers make what they want to drink. It's your own taste you want to satisfy.

Time for an analogy. Haydn wrote over 100 symphonies, all within the rigid restriction of the Classical Symphony. Beethoven came along and turned this format on it's head. The music of both these masters has stood the test of time. Just as we listen to both types of music, there's room in brewing for both versions of beer.

Make beer you like, be happy, and let others do the same.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Muzzle-Loaded Rifle

This has nothing to do with beer. In  fact, don't have any if you're going to do this. But, it's just too cool not to share.

Some time ago, I had mentioned to my son (an Army vet) how much fun I used to have loading and firing a friend's muzzle-loader. One day, he showed up with this,

 a modern muzzle-loaded rifle. We took it out to the local range to try it out. Great fun!

Getting ready to fire is a much more involved process. I don't know how they did it way back when, while being fired at.

The powder is added first, then the ball is forced down the barrel, and "seated" against the powder.

Next, a priming cap is added, which produces the initial spark, after being hit by the hammer. This spark lights the powder, and propels the ball.

Firing these is very satisfying. The cloud of white smoke is unreal. And, since it's a modern weapon, it's surprisingly accurate.

The End

Why go through all that? This is why! To have beer that you crafted yourself; to taste flavors that either aren't available off the shelf, or cost way too much.

In my opinion, it just tastes better if you made it.

And...Cleaning Up

There are two VERY important reasons for cleaning up after yourself. You'll want to do this again, won't you? So, let's make sure everything is ready for the next brewing session.

And, if you have a roommate, wife, or Significant Other, you need to keep him or her happy. In homebrewing circles, the wife is often referred to as SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed). Household peace will make your brewing, and beer, much more enjoyable.

I've seen a great deal about cleaning. What solutions, chemicals, equipment, brushes, etc to use. Again, use what you feel most comfortable with and what works best for you. I soak my bottle for several days in a weak bleach solution, and never use a brush. This works well for me.

Remember, keep everything sanitary!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bottling Video #4

So, your beer is done, in bottles, and capped. Uh, where do you put it? For years, I just had a pile of cases in the corner of the living room. One year, for my birthday, my wife got me a cabinet to store my bottles in. (I suspect it was actually for herself.)

This cabinet has room for 20 sixpacks. I don't drink very fast, so it lasts a good long time. And, with all the bottles in sight, I can easily tell when I'm running low.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bottling Video #3

I've been brewing since 1989, and only one time have I had a problem with unwanted bacteria getting into my beer. That was the one time I forgot to sanitize my bottlecaps. So, I guess it's important.

The capper you use is a matter of personal choice. I really like this one. Others prefer something different. We're all right.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bottling Video #2

To produce CO2, the bubbles we enjoy when we drink our beer, we need to add a small amount of sugar. The yeast eat this, and produce carbon dioxide.

The source of the sugar can vary. Possibilities include dextrose (corn sugar), sucrose (table sugar), corn syrup, malt extract, honey. Opinions vary on which is best, and, um, I don't have one. Use what you feel most comfortable with.

There is also a difference of opinion on when you add the sugar. Either add it all at once in a separate bucket, then fill the bottles; or, fill all the bottles, then add a small amount to each bottle. I've done both, and I can see advantages to each.

More On Bottling

Some time ago, I produced a series of videos, with my son's help, on bottling. Since I was talking about the bottling process anyway, I decided to repost them here.

As with any part of the brewing process, sanitation is the key. Anything that touches your beer must be sanitary. That includes the bottles and caps. I won't tell you what to use, everyone has their opinion, But, use something.

I've always been big on saving money. You don't have to use actual brewing equipment to brew. I do fine with stuff I get cheap, or free. The one piece I find essential, though, is a bottle filler. You can bottle without one. But, since it only costs about $2.50, it won't break the bank.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

An Old Controversy

A little while ago, I came across a post on a message board relating to a very old controversy; to bottle or to keg?

Homebrewers on both sides are adamant that they are RIGHT. I stand firmly, in the middle.

I happen to bottle, myself. I enjoy the process, it works well for me, and it's by far the cheaper option. But, that doesn't mean I regard keggers as the evil spawn of Hell.

I can well appreciate the convenience of simply pulling a beer from a tap any time you want one. And there is a considerable "wow" factor involved.

My point is, simply, that there's room for both. People are different, with different resources and needs. What works for one may not work as well for another.

If I had the space for the equipment, and the money to purchase it, I would probably keg, some. But, I like bottling, and don't look at it as a chore. I would do both.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Well, I have to declare the hard lemonade experiment a success. It's delicious, especially ice-cold. The lemonade tart and alcohol bite meld well. And, at less than 3 dollars for 10 bottles, it's something I can (almost) afford.

So, I know lemonade works. I think I'll try grape next.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Second Choice

OK, so I can't make beer. While I wait for the Money Fairy to drop a load of cash on my doorstep, I might as well have some fun.

I have some yeast nutrient left over from when I made some mead awhile ago. Two pounds of sugar costs about 2 bucks. Two packets of  Kool-Aid are 50 cents. A packet of standard yeast is twenty cents. I made some hard lemonade.

There are other flavors. Grape would make, uh, cheap wine?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Sad Day

Today is a sad day. I had done a weekly podcast on home brewing since March of 2011. Every Sunday, I would prepare for the show, rehearsing what I would say, and confirming the occasional guest.

Well, not to cry, but things aren't going well. I can't afford ingredients, and haven't brewed in over 5 months. With no brewing going on, and no beer in the house, there isn't much to talk about. So, last week I put the podcast on indefinite hiatus. My situation will get better. I will make beer, and talk about it, again.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Free Software Choices

After trying all the different types of free brewing software I could find (There may be others.), I've reached a few conclusions.

* Provided you download from trusted source, free software is a viable option. The two most important words in that statement, "trusted source". If it isn't someone who checks for hidden viruses or malware, you're simply begging for trouble. So, start with C-Net's, the Android Appmarket, or some other software site that you KNOW checks.

* It won't do everything. You probably already know that. I don't expect free software to tell me everything, or help me control everything, about my brewing process. For free, I want some help developing my recipe, and some inspiration. If you want more, well, you have to pay more.

* There is not a "best". All brewers are different, with different sets of priorities. A piece of software that has everything one person wants may not do anything for someone else. Do what I did. Download them, input a favorite recipe that you know works, and see how it reacts. Of the programs I tried, there are ones I liked more than others. But, that only makes them "better" for me. Or, as the old acronym says, YMMD.

Here are the links to all the products I tried. You may find something that works for you.

For the Android app, BrewR, Either use this link, or the Appmarket icon on you phone or tablet. By the way, since I wrote the original article, I got a new Android phone, and installed BrewR.

Brewtarget can be run on Windows, Mac, or Linux. You can find run-ready versions of the software. Or, you can compile and install it yourself, which takes a bit more work. But, you know it is tuned for your machine.

As part of the Brewmasters Warehouse website, obviously, they want you to buy something. Now, I'm not a marketing guru of any kind. But, I consider this a stroke of genius, and, I don't know why everyone doesn't include this.

Brewmate worked for me as well as one of my old favorites. I was surprised. As I said before, I consider the huge splash screen incredibly ugly. Don't look.

The Home Brew Digest has been around since the late 80's, longer than some of you. You should go here, if just to get a sense of history.

I've used this one for nearly 20 years, so it obviously works well for me. As I said, we're all different, so while it may not do all you want, I feel it's worth a shot.

And, that's it. I'm certain there may be other free packages out there. For instance, I know there are several spreadsheets to do your calculations. The are tools for each stage. And, I'm sure there are programs I didn't find. The resources are out there, use them.