It all started when I was working as a chemist. I loved all the reactions, the hands-on aspect of seeing things change properties based on science. Then I was promoted to management, but I really missed being able to mess around… uh, I mean work… in a lab.

So I started brewing. I cultured my own yeast on homemade slants (thank you, advanced bio!) and built elaborate setups with carbon dioxide traps (thank you, organic chem lab!) and had a ton of fun.

I am well aware that I am far from being a master brewer. That being said, I’ve made some really good stuff. All it takes is a little art, a little science… and a lot of patience!! To see my posts about brewing, look for my Chemistry Nerd Avatar on the forum.

For more history of the Brewery @ the Bale’s, skip the ingredients pictures. Want to know what I’ve made and my humble opinions about them? Read on.

27 July 2005: This is the Brew Tub. No, not the Brew Pub, the Brew Tub. Why, oh why must I have cute names for everything? Anyway… on the right is the mead with blowoff tube that I’m bottling soon. In the middle primary is a Fat Tire clone from Midwest Supplies. On the left is my secondary, the new Fermentap. On the far left is the cheap bourbon I use in my airlocks. It makes the whole room smell of bourbon and sweet, sweet beer… mmmm…..

06 August 2005: I bottled my mead that I started in February. It was racked at 2 weeks and again at 7 weeks. I have never made it, so we’ll see. It tasted OK, which I was not expecting; I had heard lovely descriptors of young mead as “kerosene.” I bottled four types: lemon ginger, peach with extra honey, vanilla and brown sugar, and a holiday spiced with traditional mulling spices. Stay tuned for reviews.

08 August 2005: Begin on my Oktoberfest lager. It’s my first lager. With the mead bottled, the Brew Tub has space for a 20-gallon water reservoir, insulated with towels. The coils are a drop-in titanium chiller with a small water pump. The whole thing is regulated by a Medusa. Why wouldn’t I just use a refrigerator? Because that would be easy, you fool. Plus, I had all that stuff just lying around the house (see my other hobby page). One might also question why I’m making lager in August, the hottest month of the year. Answer: I need it for my annual Oktoberfest. Any other silly questions? No? Good.

10 August 2005: So I changed the airlock on my new lager and am hit with that methanethiol-asparagus smell that smelled like the gummy stuff on the bottom of my crisper drawer. I was about to just pour it down the drain until I was saved by vfdirk, this guru on my forum, who sent me this link explaining how lager stinks when it starts ferementing. So I kept it, the smell diminished, and I racked it to secondary on 18 August and moved the temperature down to 42F.

18 September 2005: I brewed a nut brown and used the Fermentap again. I’m really starting to like it. I’ll feature it on this page if I think it warrants endorsing, but I need to use it a few more times…..

19 September 2005: The lager seems to be at a standstill. As a novice brewer, I don’t check SG, so I would rely on the airlock. The lager has been under pressure but not bubbling for about a week. I am going to let it go about 10 more days and then keg. I’m thinking of using some potassium metabisulphite to kill the yeast so it doesn’t try to cold ferment and blow the keg.

20 September 2005: I brewed my first stout- an oatmeal stout- today. I now have 25 gallons of beer in my house in various stages of fermentation, plus 5 gallons of mead. Hooray! I used the Fermentap. As my grains steeped, I assembled the valve/racking cane assembly and snapped the cane. No big deal, I have a spare. SNAP! OK, this isn’t working out. I used a straight racking cane, didn’t snap it…but it was too long to fit in the stand, so I had to prop in in the sink with two boards. Not pretty. I made the airlock out of flexible tubing. It was a huge pain, but it’s already bubbling furiously (I made an Irish Ale yeast starter and used half for the nut brown, half for the stout).

It’s a testament to the Fermentap that I like it so much that I went to great lengths to use it. However, the materials used in contruction leave much to be desired. True, I bought the canes that snapped separately, but the valve attachment assembly is a cheap plastic that bends when tightened, and the stands are way too short. Maybe I’ll make my own nylon-webbing suspenders and hang them! Yeah, in all my “free” time.

I decided not to mess with sanitizing bottles, and went straight to kegging. Not only did I only have to sanitize one vessel, but the beer was ready to drink four weeks faster! I made my own keg refrigerator by sawing out the shelves with a dremel tool and drilling a hole for the tap. I am disappointed at the lack of floor space; the cooling unit barely allows for the footprint of a five-gallon soda keg to fit. I was hoping two would fit based on the dimensions. I will be purchasing a better refrigerator very soon.

Working in a chemistry lab made me predisposed to tinkering, so I discovered a couple of cool things to do: first, I don’t start siphons when racking or bottling/kegging. I simply put the racking cane into a stopper and let the liquid rise in the tube. In the picture to the right, the mead is creeping up to the neck of the racking tube (click the hyperlink for a closeup). This requires attention to keep from putting beer onto the floor, but it also is not as forceful, so less yeast is disturbed in the transfer. Second, I like to purge my secondary carboy with CO2 before racking; to do so, I vent the airlock into the bottom of the secondary for a couple of days. Because CO2 is heavier than air, it fills the carboy and reduces oxidation.

42 thoughts on “Homebrewing

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