Tag Archives: brewing

Barrel Projects

Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some outstanding homebrewers on some barrel projects. Basically, we get 10 or so people to each brew a batch(es) of a particular beer, then we get together to siphon it into a bourbon barrel. The beer then ages over a month to many months, changing in character and gaining oak and bourbon flavors.

So far I’ve reaped the benefits of a baltic porter and an imperial IPA. The porter was outstanding, creamy and rich. The IPA was good. It came out with a deep citrus bite that opened to a summery floral taste.

I got to same the Oud Bruin last night, it’s been aging for 8 months or so, and has begun souring nicely. Basically, each contributor brewed a strong brown ale of their choice with little regard for consistency. When we transferred to the barrel, wild yeast and bacteria were added with the intention of souring the beer. Last night it was smooth and delicious at about halfway. It has a bizarre white layer of rot floating on top of it. This is by design for this beer. The barrel we used had already turned, souring beers that were not intended for that.

Last night we filled a barrel with an imperial alt, it’ll probably be pulled in a month or two after picking up the oak from a freshly charred barrel.

Currently, I’m looking for about 5 gallons to go into a dubbel barrel very soon. If you are interested, drop me a line via email or in the comments, and I’ll send you a recipe. cheers!

Brewing for the impatient: The process

The process of turning raw ingredients into delicious beer is an extremely complicated one. It involves chemistry, biology, physics, and magic, plus a potentially infinite budget for copper, stainless, and rubber whizbangs. I have only scratched the surface of the possibilities. That is by design.

Alchemy thanks to Princeton.  I owe a beer.

So, completely neglecting the science involved, and getting to the sequence of events that need to take place to make beer, here is the brewing process in a nutshell.

  1. Extract sugars from grains, producing wort.
  2. Boil wort, adding ingredients at appropriate times
  3. cool wort and transfer to fermenter
  4. add (pitch) yeast
  5. let yeast work magic
  6. transfer beer to delivery vessel

That’s it. Extract, boil, cool, wait, drink. You can say “Every boy can wear dresses” to help you remember. In upcoming articles, I’ll go into some details around what happens in these phases, and how to git’er done.

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.

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.