Brewed my standard American pale ale today (a tamer version of Sierra Nevada pale ale). I always keep some of this around but I was a little careless and ran out this week. Now I won’t have any available for a few weeks. I wanted to make a larger batch but since I was testing the new heat exchanger I decided it would be more prudent to keep it down to a 5 gallon batch in case there were any complications.  The new heat exchanger worked great – the 1/2″ tubing permitted much better flow and the system responds much more quickly.

I’ve been using only welded keg fittings until now but I installed these weldless fittings myself and they are perfectly sealed. I won’t hesitate to drill any needed future holes in the kegs. I’ll need at least two in the near future; one in the boil kettle for a whirlpool inlet and one in the hot liquor tank for a thermowell. Please ignore the soot on the keggle; I had tried to soup up the HLT burner and got the orifice too large. After a couple of brews the keg looked like this so I went back down to a smaller orifice. It provides more heat amd no more soot. I just haven’t cleaned the old soot off yet.


I ordered the ingredients for my next brew today. It will be a clone of Ballast Point’s grapefruit sculpin. I’m not an IPA fan generally, but that one is wonderful.


It isn’t pretty, but it made three batches this weekend. I wanted to see how it would do before drilling additional holes in the hot liquor tank to mount and connect to a better heat exchanger inside. The primary reason for HERMS is the temperature control it provides to the mash without the risk of scorching it by direct heating. I can’t point to any science that proves that recirculated wort is better in any way, but it certainly looks prettier – nice and clear. I enjoyed both features this weekend. An indirect effect is that since there is a pump already there, it makes sense to use it to transfer fluids between vessels. That means that there’s no need for a three tier gravity feed brewstand.

On a side note, I’ve been tuning up the old propane burners (changing regulators and orifices) in an effort to reduce heating time. It used to take a long time to heat up the mash strike water, and even longer to bring the end result to a boil. The good news is that I have substantially reduced heating times on both burners. The bad news is that propane usage is way up. I burned 19 pounds of propane this weekend doing three batches. I used to use about 4 pounds per batch.  The new burners should be much more efficient due to the greater surface area. Better yet, they can easily be rigged to run on natural gas (MUCH less expensive than propane – and no trips to the refillng station).





This is a bunch of unrelated stuff all connected together for initial cleaning/testing. That’s a March 809 pump at the bottom. It’s temporarily bolted to the three tier stand, though with the pump I won’t need that stand any more. Just wanted to test it and run some pbw through it. It is fed by the mash/lauter tun and is here running the “mash” (pbw) through my old immersion wort chiller, which is temporarily hanging inside the hot liquor tank.  It will be used as a HERMS hex until the new, dedicated SS HERMS coil gets mounted in there. Then the “wort” goes through the counterflow wort chiller, which doesn’t belong anywhere in that fluid chain but I figured I may as well clean it while I’m circulating pbw. Then back into the MLT  to be recirculated. The counterflow chiller will be removed but the rest will be used as a test bed tomorrow to see how effective the HERMS is at controlling mash temps while I brew a robust porter (and, if time permits,. also a holiday spice ale).  The plan is to combine this hardware with a new one or two tier stand with temperature-controlled burners. I’ll switch out that cooler MLT for a kettle MLT at that time. I’m just trying to keep this old rig operational as long as I can while working on the next gen rig.



I picked up enough parts and pieces to switch to low pressure, thermostat-controlled burners. That should reduce the babysitting required during brewing, and wiull permit me to go ahead with the HERMS project. I’ll probably stop brewing during the transition so I’ll try to get a couple of brews in this (long) weekend to stay ahead. I’m catching up on what’s been sitting in fermenters; got half of the steam beer and SNPA clone kegged, and the other half of the SNPA bottled. Still have half of the steam beer to bottle, plus the two batches of Oktoberfest to deal with. Dunno what to brew this weekend. I have ingredients for a moose drool clone that are getting old (grains are already crushed) so I had better get that done. The vanilla porter keg is getting light so I’ll need something to replace that. Maybe an oatmeal stout?



Wow. It’s been too hot (on the rare clear evenings) to do anything with astronomy so no activity to report there. The observatory remains set up and ready to go when I get to it. On the other hand, I’ve been doing 5 gallon all-grain homebrews most weekends. Last weekend was my first 10 gallon batch (California common) and that all went well. The latest boil burner revision was successful; brought 13 gallons to a boil very quickly and boiled it down to 11 gallons in just over an hour. I used to struggle to get a good boil with 7 gallons in there. The photo above shows the rig with the new boil kettle. I doubt that it has improved performance, but it looks nicer than the old keggle (converted beverage keg) and the laminated flat bottom helps to ensure even heat and eliminates the risk of wort scorching. The thermometer hadn’t arrived by brew day so there’s a plug above the ball valve where the thermometer should (will) be. Don’t much need a thermometer in the boil kettle; it is either boiling or it isn’t. It is still handy to watch the temperature as the wort cools, though.

Next for the brewery? HERMS (Heat Exchanger Recirculating Mash System), I believe. Unless I go with RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) . I know that I want to recirculate the mash for several reasons and I may as well add temperature control while I’m at it. I picked up a March pump and I have an extra wort chiller that could be used as a HERMS heat exchanger so that’s tempting. I’d need to convert the HLT burner to low pressure (or maybe natural gas) and add a furnace-style Honeywell valve/pilot/igniter, plus a temperature controller. Still less expensive (but slower) than adding an electric RIMS system, and I’d keep 120VAC (or worse, 240VAC) away from the brewstand and all the liquids to be found there. I’m still evaluating both options.


With the pump available, I could also modernize things a bit and switch from the old school three tier gravity brewstand to a two tier (or even one tier) rig. I’ve started work on a two tier stand. It is MUCH lighter than the wood stand I use now, and because it is only two tiers it is much lower. I could get rid of the stepstool and see into all three vessels. If I go with the HERMS I’ll probably do the gas valve modifications to that stand so I can keep brewing on this one while I fidlle around. Then, when everything works, switch it all over at once to the new stand.


I’ll try to be better about updates in the coming months.




I’ve explored the three simplest levels of homebrewing so far. All have used extract rather than mashed grains (mashing is the process of converting the starch in the grains to sugars). “Extract” is wort (unfermented beer) from grain that has already been mashed by a brewery and then condensed into either a syrup or a powder. Extract brewing is very suitable for stovetop homebrewing, generally using only one kettle and burner, and a limited water volume to boil. The simplest method uses hopped extract. That’s what Mr. Beer is. There’s no boil and no hop additions. Just heat water, dissolve the extract, cool, and stick in the fermenter. The amount in the kettle is usually smaller than the desired batch size so makeup water is added. This is planned for in the recipe so the result isn’t diluted. In the fermenter, yeast consumes the sugars in the wort and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The CO2 isn’t used and is vented (after fermentation is complete, CO2 is added for carbonation). The alcohol is the point of the exercise.  A more complicated method of using extract is simply referred to as extract brewing. In this case,the brewer didn’t add hops before condensing the wort. To use this, you heat water, dissolve the liquid and/or syrup extract, and then bring to a boil, usually for one hour. During the boil,  hops are added at various intervals to cancel out the sweetness that is a characteristic of wort, and to add flavor and aroma. Then it goes into the fermenter and any needed makeup water is added. Partial extract brewing is similar but before dissolving the extract one steeps specialty grains in the heated water, usually for twenty minutes or so. These don’t add any fermentables to the wort but do add color and more compexity to the taste. From that point, the process is the same as extract brewing. I’ve done those three so far, and have found that increased effort brings rewards; the partial extracts have been my best beers.

The next level of complexity is called partial mash (or, sometimes, mini-mash). In this process, some (usually about half) of the extract is replaced by actual grains. These are “mashed” (soaked at a controlled temperture for an hour or so) and do contribute fermentable sugars to the wort. Then the extract is added to make up the remaining fermentable sugars. The result is then boiled and hops added as required. After the boil  makeup water is added if needed, and it goes into the fermenter.

The next level of complexity is all grain brewing. In this, extract is generally not used and, when used, provides only a small portion of the fermentable sugars. Usually, all of the fermentable sugars in the wort come from conversion of starch in the grains. All of the wort volume for the entire batch is present in the boil; no makeup water is added. These characteristics require a more complex setup and the greater (full batch) boil volumes generally dictate a larger heat source than a stovetop. Propane is the most common fuel, though a number of electric brew systems are in use as well.  I’ll write about all grain brewing after I gain some experience at it. There’s a stovetop variant known as Brew in a Bag, but most all grain brewers use two or three (usually three) vessels on a brewstand with multiple burners and multiple levels so that gravity can be used to transfer liquids from one container to another. That’s the system I’ll be using. The modern trend is toward single level brewstands incorporating one or more pumps to manage liquid transfers. A number of newer setups also include temperature-controlled burners (either gas or electric), for varying degrees of automation.

I’ve been pushing “production” because there’s a gathering of local astronomers coming up at my place and I want to be able to offer some variety of homebrew samples. I’ll be kegging batches 4 and 5 tomorrow night. batches 6 and 7 are in the fermenters and won’t be ready for this sesson – but there’ll be another soon enough. I figure I’m sufficiently ahead to relax a bit and work on infrastructure. It’s been a learning experience, for sure. Fortunately, none of the lessons have been particularly expensive or disastrous. This is fun.

The photos at the top of this post show some of the changes I’ve made. At the left are the two kegerators. They will permit me to keep 6 kegs cooled and under CO2. In the middle is a project that has not yet reached the stage of producing anything. It will permit me to go to all grain brewing, and to increase my batch size from 5 gallons to 10 gallons (or a little more). The trial run of that rig is planned for June 13 so watch this spot. At the right is a tap handle that is currently installed on one of the kegerators, though it wasn’t yet there when the kegerators  photo was taken.




Batch #1 is in the keg under 20 pounds of CO2 and as cold as I can get it. It has been in there for maybe 24 hours and the carbonation is coming along. I plan to drop it to serving pressure tomorrow and maybe draw a bottle or two to take to my dad at the old folks’ home on my obligatory Sunday visit. The excess furniture is supposed to leave Monday so I’ll be able to bring the kegerator(s) into the house for greater convenience.


Batch #2 is plugging away in the fermenter. No visible signs of fermentation so it’s really only conditioning.

Batch #3 is a mini-batch to use up a one gallon hit that came with some stuff I picked up. It’s a West Coast IPA and will be my first experience with dry hopping. I’ll probably bottle it all rather than tie up a keg with beer I don’t currently drink (and it will fill only 10 bottles or so anyway). If I acquire a taste for IPA beers later I can always dig them out. This is another partial extract and I never had that heavy aroma during steeping that happened on batch #1. Of course, the specialty grain bill was far smaller. Turns out that there’s not much danger of a boilover with one gallon in a 5 gallon pot! I might do some more mini batches to try other brews that I don’t normally drink. There’s no economy of scale, of course, so it’s an expensive way to go.




Batch #1 (Vienna Lager recipe processed as an ale) is in the keg! Kegging took longer than I had planned, because I had kept putting off the prep work; had to put new connectors on the beer and gas lines in the kegerator, had to clean and sanitize the new keg, etc. Got it all handled, rocked the keg at 20 psi to begin carbonation, and tried to draw the first sample. That was problematic, as the flow kept stopping. I finally discovered that I had junk in the bottom of the keg. I apparently wasn’t as careful as I had thought to avoid transferring trub. The right answer is to drain the keg into something else, let the junk settle, and refill the keg more carefully. As I proved the issue by bending the keg’s liquid tube a little (making its pickup higher), the easy answer is to go ahead and run it until the level in the keg drops below the liquid tube – THEN fix it.

I drew a test glass. It’s not very clear but I already know there’s junk in the keg so no surprise there. Maybe it will clear after resting for a day or two. It’s darker than I expected but I don’t remember what color the vendor even promised. Tastes warm and flat – no surprises there!

The new (to me; actually fairly old) gravity-feed all grain brewing rig arrived this week. It will benefit from lots of tuneup and update work before I begin to use it, but it has real potential.



Managed to grab a couple of hours in the kitchen today so I threw together a quick extract batch (Munton’s Cervesa). It’s fast, easy, and cheap and I suspect it will taste a lot like a cheap Mexican lager. That would make it a better choice to offer most folks (including me) than a hopped-up craft beer. If it’s any good I’ll try to keep some on hand all the time while I educate my palate with hoppier stuff. This was a quickie; no photos, no videos, no notes. Just a loaded fermenter and some anticipation.

The other thing I did today was to pick up an old school gravity feed all-grain setup from a local homebrewer who has become inactive. One keggle with propane burner as a hot liquor tank, a cooler mash tun, and a keggle with propane burner as a boiler, all on a three level brewing stand. There’s a LOT more room in the barn than in the kitchen (or there will be, after I reorganize things) so it should make things easier and more enjoyable all around.  I just have to clear a space for it before delivery on Wednesday.




First brew; 5 gallon batch, Vienna Lager partial extraxt kit from Grape and Granary in Akron, Ohio.  the kit intentionally contained ale yeast despite the lager label. The guy at the store said it was as close to a lager as I would get without lagering; supposed to be similar to Dos Equis.

I used spring water from Beuhler’s; they had 2.5 gallon jugs. There’s a refill station there but I didn’t check pricing. I’ll probably keep using that until I can analyze my water. I have the Campden tablets to fix the choramine (and I can SMELL the choramine so there’s plenty of that) but don’t know about PH or minerals. I used Star San on everything and followed the advice I have seen about also loading up a spay bottle. That was a big help. If there was a hot break I missed it. The 5 gallon kettle contained the three gallon boil with no issues.

The steeping grains (the recipe doesn’t say what they are – the label probably did but that got thrown away) released a strong swampy odor. I don’t know whether that is normal. The odor filled the first floor and didn’t change after adding DME and LME, or even after adding hops and boiling for 45 minutes! Hope that’s OK.

Thought about rehydrating the dry yeast but since it’s a store kit I figured it was fresh enough so I just threw it in. Just took a look after about 6 hours and no airlock activity but a peek through the bung showed what appeared to be an even layer of krausen. I see why folks prefer to use clear carboys rather than the plastic buckets I have; can’t see what is going on in there.

Dunno about OG – checked it from the spigot and it was 1.100! That didn’t sound right so I pulled a sample from the top and it was 1.038. Kit said it should be 1.056. I realized that the makeup water hadn’t mixed well with the wort because of the different readings so I mixed it all up but forgot to take a new OG reading. I’m sure it is somewhere between 1.100 and 1.038!

Since everything was new, I put 5 gallons in the brew pot to boil and release whatever was in the metal. Stuck the wort cooler in there, too, for the same reason. Then used the chiller and dumped the resulting warm water. That was problematic; the damn adaptor doesn’t fit my ancient kitchen tap so I just held it on and let it leak. Fortunately I hadn’t made the water run yet so I picked up some ice while I was out. Used 10 pounds to chill the wort when the time came. Still have 10 pounds of ice and 5 gallons of spring water for the next brew.

It was a busy day. Took five or six hours from setup to pitching yeast and rinsing the hardware. I know a partial extract shouldn’t take that long, but I had to organize the stuff and boil the metal items. Next brew day will be easier. I think I’ll do a full (unhopped) extract next. AIH has a “Cervesa” kit by Muntons on sale (about half the price of the kit I used today). At least I won’t have to worry about the specialty grains smelling up the place. I also have a partial extract kit that came with some hardware I bought – but it is really old. I think it has only DME so might be OK if I replace the yeast. I’d hate to waste a 5 gallon batch, though. And there’s the Mr. Beer kit I bought when they had their big one day $20 sale a few weeks ago.

The stovetop is slow in bringing 5 gallons to a boil and not much faster with the three gallons boiled in the kit recipe. I’d like to get a nice, big burner for the barn. There’s gas out there so I wouldn’t have to fiddle with propane. That would help with the smell, too, if that is always going to happen. Since I’m apparently going to be using spring water, the barn may be ideal (no water lines to the barn). If I straighten things up out there and dump some junk I could have quite a large area dedicated to brewing. I keep it at 50 degrees in the winter out there (and can easily increase that to 70 degrees for a brew day) so it would be a decent environment. It gets HOT in the summer but a big fan and two open doors would probably handle that.

I have two 5 gallon ball lock kegs on hand and two more on the way (all new). Two will fit in the Edgestar kegerator, though only one tap is connected. I ordered a picnic tap to use on a second keg until I decide whether to switch to a two tap tower. The larger kegerator will handle three or four kegs and it will be easy and cheap to add additional taps to that one. I first have to decide whether it will remain a kegerator or become a controlled temperature fermentation chamber. I’m considering doing that and making a keezer to replace it. Right now the priority has to be getting the Edgestar prepped to accept this batch in time to accept it. I switched the beer and gas connectors over to ball lock so it’s ready to run one keg. I need to get a gas line in there for the second keg, and get the temperature adjusted. I plan to force carbonate right away, and then load up some bottles to pass around (if it is any good). Sure sounds easier than filling them from a bottling bucket and carbonating with sugar for a week or two.