Monthly Archives: November 2009

Brewing for the Impatient: your mash tun

I cannot believe how long it took me to build my mash tun. In then end I think I was a bit intimidated, partly because I didn’t really understand what a mash tun was. Whenever I set down to research it, I’d end up on some long-winded analysis of manifold efficiency and sparge mechanics. What I’ve since learned is that a mash tun is a container that keeps water and grain at a stable temperature. That’s it.

To build an effective mash tun, you need to consider only a few simple things:

  1. Stable temperature
  2. extract water from mash tun (aka spigot/valve)
  3. filter grain from water
  4. capacity

Don’t get me wrong, you can derive path lengths, surface to volume, gravity and pump feeds, and whatever else you feel like. Later. But if you want to git’er done today, that’s the meat of it.

Here’s a look at the mash tun I built. You can probably do it simpler, since I managed to lose the spigot fittings. In fact, a conversation with Michel Brown inspired much of this, and his suggestion was to take a simple rectangular ice chest and fix a piece of steel wool in front of the spigot as a filter. That’s not what I did, but it sounds like a solidly impatient way to go.

I started with a typical 10-gallon orange round igloo-style cooler. I removed the spigot and lost the pieces after two moves.

Here’s a photo of the pieces I used:

From Brewing

The parts are all 1/2″. The tubing is a piece of braided stainless steel 40″ washer tubing with the rubber piece removed. I used a hacksaw to cut the ends off and then pushed the braided steel over the rubber hose (rather than pulling) while holding the hose with needle nose pliers. Note that many of the washing machine hoses are actually a polymer, and I’m not entirely sure if it matters a bunch. They look almost identical, though the polymers appeared to have two thicker threads per braid whereas steel had four.

And here’s how they fit together:

From Brewing

The washer indicates where the cooler wall goes. The parts are all 1/2″. I used two o-rings per side and compressed the heck out of them to get a good seal.

From Brewing

The final pieces screwed into the T-joint and I collared the braid onto them.

When everything is assembled, test it. Fill it with water and let it sit for 45 mniutes. Then do it again with hot (170 deg F) water. Close it up and let it sit. There should be no leakage.

PS. Why no equipment list? Invariably something is unavailable or hard to find, and that always mucks up the works for me. But you can find detailed instructions here or here.

Specialty beer prices

Like Jeff, I recently followed a thread at the OBC about the price of beer. It was surprisingly heated, considering that nobody was forcing people to drink specialty beers, and these are people who spend a lot of time making beers of their own and promoting the craft. Jeff’s article is very thoughtful and reasonable (as usual) , and we both draw similar conclusions.

But I wanted to toss in a few more pieces. Beer is experiencing an evolution. Craft brewing is growing beyond the classics. New styles are popping up. Brewers are experimenting. And frankly, beer is getting better.

To produce specialty beers, there are often unique processes involved. These can increase expense in several ways. First, the process itself can be expensive. Equipment of the quality and magnitude required by a brewery can cost a lot, education to apply the techniques can be costly. Second, the experiments leading to the process can be expensive. Third, the time involved is expensive. Additional steps take time. With specialty beers, that can be a lot of time. Barrel aging requires that the beer stay in a location for an extended period of time. This not only takes up space with stock not rotating, but can be a financial burden by extending beyond net-30 by definition.

Then there is the risk. Brewing is a combination of art and science, of chemistry, biology, and physics. In those realms, things get complicated fast as more variables are introduced. Putting beer into a barrel greatly increases the risk of spoilage. Roasting/smoking/whatever grains can introduce off flavors. If a batch goes bad, that can be extremely costly to a brewery. This risk needs to be accounted for in the cost of the beers unless you’d see the producer of your favorites disappear suddenly after a batch goes wrong.

So those are some of the more tangibles contributors to higher cost. Jeff makes an interesting observation regarding scarcity as well. By pricing these beers higher, it makes it possible for a greater number of consumers to enjoy the products, rather than a smaller number of entities rapidly depleting the market. Seems like a supply and demand curve for people who like beer.

In addition, there is the perception of beer. The far more established wine market is a good one to consider. The economics tends to work itself out. Cheap wines are typically mass produced and lack character. There are occasional gems, but those typically climb the scale or are a bit more lucky catches. There are plateaus as you move up the price scale, to inexpensive wines, moderate, expensive, and so on, with each level improving in quality. Typically you’ll find diminishing returns as you climb up in price, so the goal is to find the right wine for you at the time. Now, the same can be applied to beer. The mountain doesn’t climb as high, but the plateaus are there. Keystone, Natural Light, and others form the foundation, supporting Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Corona, Heineken, Fosters, and many others sit here at the sweet spot of the American pallet. On top of that we go to the Bridgeport IPAs, Hefeweizen, Mirror Ponds, Terminal Gravity, and other distributed microbrews. Some of these breweries make craft beers as well, and those being to fill the next tiers, along with Rogue, Dogfish Head, Stone, and many others.

The great thing about the larger microbreweries pushing up the plateaus is that it really opens the door for smaller breweries to do the same. At those price points, breweries like Upright Brewing and Captured by Porches can release their specialty runs without needing to compete at the 6-pack level. So even if Abyss is overpriced, it is a great thing for beer in general. Buy a bottle and share it with some friends. Or just drink it yourself.

Brewing for the Impatient

I’ve been thinking long and hard about writing a series on homebrewing. By no means am I a great homebrewer…in fact I am only beginning to dabble in brewing all-grain beers. However, after surveying the various writings on the internets about the subject, I have found that most have one flaw in common: they go too deep.

To make good (often very good) beer, it doesn’t take a deep understanding of flocculation curves or the dynamics of viscous fluids. It takes a cursory understanding of a number of interrelated phenomena, the ability to execute on simple instructions, some gear, and a lot of water.

This series will not prepare you to enter competitions. It will not even scratch on the esoteric knowledge that is possessed by a number of brewers I admire. It will show you some places where you can cut corners.

If you read this, and it makes your brewing better (or worse) please, let me know. Also, many areas have clubs where homebrewers gather to share their experiences and learn or bitch about stuff. The people are typically friendly (often in a curmudgeonly way), and are happy to help.

cheers
rick

The Dems are blowing it

Okay, I’m pretty frustrated with the more liberal party right now. Tuning in, there are two major themes right now. Health care and Fort Hood. These are both important issues, but I am not liking what I’m hearing.

First, Fort Hood was a tragedy, plain and simple. But the theme that I’m hearing on the (left) radio is almost a defence of of Hasan for the pressures he was under. Laying the onus on the military, that they didn’t listen enough. It’s a military, not a cruise ship. I do not, and cannot know the true motivations of the shooter, whether he snapped, if it was terrorism, or what. But what he did was wrong, extremely wrong, and he is the responsible party in the end. This was premeditated. And it was a tragedy. My heart goes to all those affected.

Second, health care. Now that things are happening (for better or worse) people are bitching about one particular issue. Abortion. And that it may or may not be covered by the health care plan. All I can say is that this is not the time or the place to make a Roe v Wade stand, or whatever bill is up your craw. Abortion as covered in the health plan must defer to other laws as to its treatment. That’s right. Leave it the heck out of the health care bill, at most indicating that it will be covered as a health issue as prescribed by the law. Then if there are laws that block what you see is right, tackle those. But quit screwing up our freaking health care bill, it’s complicated enough already.

So those points bring me to my overarching problem with the dems. They just can’t seem to get their act together. Really. Let’s find some alignment. It isn’t perfect, you won’t please everyone. One of your jobs isn’t just to represent the people (or too often the money), it is to turn it around and influence the people with what is right. You need to make the hard decisions and sell them back to your constituents. So get it together, get a keel on your ship, and let’s get something done before half of you get fired next year.

2009 retrospective – loss and renewal

It’s been an amazing year. In some ways great, but there were some painful times. It seems that there’s a cycle where every now and then I need to go through some changes. Change is painful, and this was no exception. I didn’t always handle it well, and at points I handled it very badly. I’m not sure that I was built with the emotional fortitude to maintain the stoic coolness I’d need to manage the changes. Que sera.

In many ways I’ve completely realigned my worldview. Soccer no longer has a starring role. With that shift, my relationships both internal and external have changed dramatically. It wasn’t easy, I put a lot of my life into the game, the people, it was a passion, and still is, albeit sidelined. I no longer have the conduit for my emotional, social, and physical energies that I have known for so long. Soccer was my culture, and its people were my people. But as I had to pull myself away, things changed.

At the same time, work was changing. I felt betrayed by my job. Not for any good reason, but because of uncertainty. The changes built on top of each other. Energies otherwise spent spun on impending change that I had no control over. I felt that I was training people to commoditize my job. The world was falling apart, and mine was metamorphosing.

And change is painful. A full-blown depression, what was in my head I felt in my body. It was pretty weird, and tough to shake. And it didn’t feel good. It took a lot of work, facing my demons, sorting out what I wanted, rediscovering myself.

But slowly I emerged from the fog. It was the clarity of a clear day, morning sun lighting the mist in beams through crisp air, the bright haze bringing out the depth of the forest. Renewed purpose, a rediscovery of joy. I think I’m in a better place. But why is it so hard to get here? My friend Cory, a brilliant personality theorist had forewarned me that something like this would happen. There’d be painful changes and I would have difficult discoveries.

I wish that I hadn’t alienated some people who were important to me in the process, but eventually I’ll discover deeper meaning. I don’t think I’m through it yet, but I’m grateful for the change, I guess the pain is part of the learning.

What’s the Matter with V?

I was pretty excited about V. It was bringing back what in my mind was the original miniseries, and a nice bit of sci-fi. But this time with a budget and awesome effects and some hindsight on making a great series. Plus, I wrapped BSG and 4400 up pretty recently and need a new sci-fi serial fix.

I watched the pilot last night, and was a bit disappointed. 4400 was great, and there are some strong ties to that show here, between Joel Gretcsh and Scott Peters they really raised the bar. And after one episode, I just am not hooked. I will give it another go, but I’m not chomping at the bit for more yet.

I’ve heard people criticize and/or laud V for its ‘harsh commentary on Obamamania.’ It definitely made unveiled references to the president and current political situations. Brave. But they came out looking like something from a Sophomore’s script. Just silly. A commentary on universal health care and hope. We all know what the visitors are. They’re also presented as terrorists. I have to “hope” that the Obama references were limited to their uninspiring pilot, that their intention is to borrow from many modern charismatic leaders for the evolution of the V plot.

I suppose that my advice for the V writers is if you want to go political, start by modeling ideologies and create parallels. People will get it, and they’ll point it out for the ones who don’t…or at least the message boards will start lighting up. Get too specific and your point will be watered down, and at some point you’ll have to sacrifice your principles in favor of the fiction, or vice-versa. Symolism and metaphor are powerful tools. Billboards are too, but I’d prefer to see them on the highway (or not at all).

I was not upset by the rate at which the visitors were revealed as sinister. It wasn’t going to surprise anyone, so why put that sort of effort into a surprise? So they needed to spend some time on character development. Unfortunately they wasted too much on demonstrating which stereotype to model each character on. Most annoying was the whiny-teen you’re never around because you’re saving the world archetype of the son. Of course he’s going to be a V ambassador (or was it Hope?). Chad Decker looks to be the Faustian reporter who will sell-out his principles and the human race. I can only hope that he has a fraction of the complexity of Gaius Baltar, but for now it looks like he’s going to be the visitor’s reluctant lapdog, accepting more and more power, until he grows a pair and starts to help the resistance on the sly.

The product placement in V was pretty robust. It felt like there was almost as much as in 24. iPhones and cars and more. Lots of stuff for us to buy. Maybe it’s a visitor plot.

A two-hour pilot would’ve been a wise move. If you’re creating an epic, it helps to build empathy and plot. But if it’s a teen drama don’t worry about it.

I will watch the next episode, and probably the rest until the break. And then I’ll decide if V will continue to visit my living room. It wasn’t terrible, but so far I just don’t care, and my TV time is valuable! One positive is that V inadvertently introduced me to FastForward, which is excellent so far…sort of cop show meets memento with a bit of sci-fi thrown in.