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DmentD
Austin, TX
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Wil, you should know better than to feed the trolls! They're like stray cats - once you show them any attention or toss them a few crumbs, they'll come back again and again, howling outside your window, spraying your house with their acrid, fetid urine, and generally making life unpleasant. Even a good swift kick only encourages them to lower lows. Best to ignore them and let them wither away and skulk off to their dirty little hovels. RDWHAHB.
Toggle Commented Jun 19, 2012 on Video Q&A Post for Denver Comicon at WWdN: In Exile
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You sir, continue to level up at homebrewing at an astonishing rate! I'd say the next, fairly simple but game-changing addition to your skill sheet should be making yeast starters with a stir plate and an erlenmeyer (conical) flask. You basically build a very simple wort using about 1 liter of water, 100 grams of extra light DME, and a pinch of yeast nutrient/energizer and pitch your yeast pack into it. A piece of aluminum foil lightly placed over the top (to let air in, but keep microorganisms out) finishes the setup. You get this starter rolling 18-24 hours before you need to pitch it, and you'll end up with an order of 3-4x the amount of active yeast cells than you started with. The stir plate keeps the yeast in suspension, and continues to knock CO2 out, and oxygen into the solution, and that's what causes the yeast to reproduce so rapidly -- this is the very reason you're oxygenating your brew in the fermenter right before you pitch... the big dose of oxygen switches yeast into a massive reproduction mode, and once they consume the oxygen, reproduction slows to a crawl and they get down to the business of eating the sugars and producing ethyl alcohol and CO2. So, by building a starter you end up with a much larger volume of very awake, very hungry, piranha-like yeasties. Your brew will ferment out faster and more thoroughly, the potential for a stuck fermentation will be nearly non-existent, and let's face it... an erlenmeyer flask looks awesome on the kitchen counter -- real mad science like stuff. *grins* You can make your own stir plate for ~$25, or just buy one for ~$70, and the erlenmeyer flasks run anywhere from $10 - $40. I'd recommend the 2 liter flask in case you need to build larger starters than the standard 1 liter. All this stuff can be got at most any homebrew place, or you can hunt down a bargain on the internet.
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That's no action figure, my friend... that's "The Ex" knife-holder. I have one just like it, and it's mondo cool. It's one of the very few things I can actually claim I was on the forefront of (yeah, the polio vaccine would be a more notable claim, but hey, I take my victories where I can get 'em, no mater how trivial). I learned about it when it was a concept idea a few years back, and was called "The Voodoo" knife holder. Was actually shocked when it eventually made it into production. They're widely available, but I like to support the friendly folks at ThinkGeek: http://www.thinkgeek.com/homeoffice/kitchen/86dd
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"Homebrewing Patron"... I might just put that on my resume. *grins* When I started homebrewing, I fell so completely in love with it that I swore an oath to Crom that I would do my best to lend assistance and advice whenever possible to anyone getting into the hobby, thereby cementing their addiction and making them as big a fanatic for it as I am. One of us, one of us, one of us! Now you've had a taste. Soon (if not already), you'll start talking about homebrewing to anyone who even mentions it within the tri-state area. People who ask merely to be polite will soon find themselves pinned into a corner -- like a moth skewered by a hat-pin to a board -- as you ramble on about mashing grains, or fresh hops vs pelleted, oblivious to their vacuous stare and the thin line of spittle rolling down their slackened jaw. Should you find another brewer and start a conversation, you'll fail to observe those around you backing away slowly, some of them crossing themselves as if to ward off demonic possession, as you and your conversational partner slip into what can only appear to outsiders as a cold-war Russian cipher of gibberish terms: wort, sparge, O.G., F.G., T.G., flocculation, attenuation, krausen, autolysis, saccharification. And. It. Will. Be. AWESOME! Also, not to continually harp on Austin Homebrew, but they do carry the blank six (and four) pack carriers. Dunno if it's worth it with the shipping, but if you're ordering other stuff it may work out. http://bit.ly/qvhf7J
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That was me. A little story: Using homebrew as a bribe, I convinced my two artist friends -- an illustrator, and a watercolor painter -- to design labels to my specs, that I did digital post-production on to fit the fancy labels I had (neck and main labels for each bottle), and they were some absolutely gorgeous zombie themed bits of fine art (my home-brewery is 'Ol Shambler Brewery). That all ended after five batches of beer. It's enough of a pain in the arse to clean the original labels from the bottles I recycled to use for my homebrew, and now I was committing to cleaning my own labels off each and every bottle. That's 52-ish bottles per five gallon batch for those of you keeping score at home. My commitment to a beautiful looking label was trumped by my desire to minimize the amount of time I spent hunched over my sink. So, with the 3/4" Avery labels I print the brew name and stick them on the caps, and they get disposed of when the cap gets tossed into the recycle bin. The bottles get a rinse and go into a bucket to get a quick soak in OxyClean Free at a later date (once I get enough of them to make it worth my time), a final rinse, and onto the bottle tree to dry before getting boxed up for reuse with another batch. I do, however, have some lovely original home-brewery artwork to hang in the bar in the future. *grins* My meads and wines, however, do get nice labels. Those don't get consumed quite as quickly, and there are fewer bottles per batch.
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Time for a wort chiller, Wil. I'f you're feeling particularly maker-like, you can put it together with parts from a big-box home improvement store (copper tubing, vinyl hose, a few hose clamps) for a lot cheaper than you can buy one from a homebrew supplier. I would also suggest that rather than use it as originally intended (hook it up to your sink and just push tap-temp water though it and back out into your sink, wasting a ton of water) that you get a el-cheapo garden pump (~$15) and employ an ice chest and 30 lbs of ice, and recirculate the water through the ice, wasting minimal water and getting it colder than your tap ever will. You'll save a lot of water, a lot of hassle using your sink as a water bath, and most importantly you're chilling the brew rapidly -- this is critical for a good cold break, and to reduce the "infection window" that exists between 80 and 140 degrees. It takes me about 8 minutes to chill a 5 gallon batch). You just slip the chiller into your pot in the last 15 minutes of the boil (thereby sanitizing it... just make sure it's clean before you do this), and when your boil is done you fire up the pump and stir in a counter direction to the flow. It sounds like a lot of hassle, but moving your pot into a sink or tub and continually changing the water and adding ice, and potentially cross-contaminating your brew with the water-bath is no picnic either. It's one of those tools you'll wonder how you did without once you start using it. I'd be happy to offer long-distance advice on constructing/improving one if you're interested.
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Crib-sheets sent. Due to fancy formatting, pastebin wasn't an option, so for now I've flushed them into the email tubes. Kindly check your "mere-mortals" filter to ensure it didn't get scraped off.
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Don't forget to check your local Craigslist listings for folks selling off gear... some are getting out of the hobby, a lot of them are just upgrading. You can get secondhand stuff for a fraction of the cost of new. Hell, I started with one each 6.5 GAL 5 GAL glass carboys, and bought another 6.5 GAL and three more 5 GAL glass carboys for about half what they would be new. Since they are glass, they don't stain or absorb odor, and as long as they're not cracked or chipped, they're good to go. Also, you can scoop up great deals on empty pop-top beer bottles on Craigslist too. A lot of the time folks are giving them away to a good home. You can also check with your local brew supplier, as most times they have folks drop off empties by the case there, and they can't resell them so leave them for their customers to take home for free.
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Living in Austin, I may be biased, but Austin Homebrew Supply is a fantastic source of equipment, ingredients and kits (both recipe and equipment kits). They're also the second largest online homebrew retailer, and keep lots of everything on hand. http://austinhomebrew.com I spend more time and money there than I'd care to admit. *grins*
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"...really have to do a partial mash [SNIP] I'm not quite ready for that, yet..." I do all my brews as a mini-mash (or partial mash, same thing), partial volume boil, on the stove-top or on a propane burner... the only difference is time -- I can shave 45 minutes off my total with the propane burner. No special equipment required beyond what you're using already, I just employ a second 12-quart pot to mash in (what self-respecting home chef doesn't have a 12 quart stockpot?), and then to boil "top-up" water in. I condensed about three or four good solid techniques into a 1 page crib-sheet for a process that pleases my OC brain, and that anybody can follow (especially if you've got a few brews under your belt). If you have an interest in having a peek, please let me know and I'll email it to you, and my other crib-sheets for the rest of the brew process. If you don't find it useful, I'd be shocked. I've got an oatmeal stout that I'm exceptionally proud of, and I'd suggest racking yours (when you do make one) onto medium-toasted French oak chips for the two-week ride in secondary. It gives it a great, well rounded flavour and complexity that is hard to beat. I'd also suggest you look into a "wee heavy" Scotch ale... try a Belhaven Wee Heavy as a good example of the species. And, all these nice dark malty beers benefit from an extra week or two in bottles before consuming to let the flavours mature further, and they age very, very well.
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I clean forgot! As every homebrewer has done thus far, I extend to you the open invitation of brewer hospitality should you find yourself in Austin*. Come and sample my "belated birthday" brew: a cold-brewed-coffee porter, aged with French oak that had been soaked in scotch and whiskey. That one, and many more. * (This offer has NOTHING to do with you being a famous personage of fame-y fameness**... it has EVERYTHING to do with you being a decently cool human being, whose fame put you on the radar of a lot of people like me who wouldn't have otherwise known you were pretty much just 'one of us': a down-to-earth guy, a nerdanista, a beer aficionado, a father and husband, and someone it would be a blast to just spend a few hours with and share a few beers and good conversation (had fame and notoriety not made invitations such as mine a nice gesture you'd rarely take folks up on.) ** (Ok, maybe a little, but no more than say... 10%.)
Toggle Commented Aug 2, 2011 on on birthdays and making beer at WWdN: In Exile
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CP's book is awesome, but you might want to check out How to Brew by John Palmer as well. HtB taught me a lot of good, solid theory behind every part of the process, and most of the time I like to know the 'why for' a little more than the 'how to' (ala Alton Brown -- hooray for food Nerdism! (although his brewing episode left a lot to be desired, but hey, there's only so much you can cover in 21 minutes)). If you ever decide to get into making mead, The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm is an absolute must. Again, lots of valuable theory to go with the how-to. You already have most of the equipment (it recycles a lot of the gear you already use, namely fermenters), and you can make it "no heat", so no boiling at all -- just use good quality raw honey, and you've got the critical ingredient right there. It's a little more fussy up front, but not by much, and it takes more time on the back end, but it's a great investment in time that'll pay dividends later.
Toggle Commented Aug 2, 2011 on on birthdays and making beer at WWdN: In Exile
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Yes indeed, there is no one absolute right way to brew! I'm fairly fastidious, but I bow to sensibility, and practical convenience and time savings over labratory-like conditions (although, not by much *grins*). I've stopped bothering to "sanitize" my reverse-osmosis filtered water with sodium metabisulfite (Campden tablets) when I do meads, ciders and hard lemonade (all three are "no-boil" methods) as the R-O filter removes as many, if not more microorganisms than StarSan or other sanitizers can, and strips out most of the chlorine added by water treatment. Ultimately, you're just trying to eliminate any beasties that could beat up your yeast in a fair fight. I've heard "war stories" of folks dropping their wristwatches (and other type items) into the bottling bucket right after racking the brew over, and never having a bad bottle of beer. There's even one guy who busted his dog lapping out of his fermenting pail... he had such a spectacularly great batch of beer, that he puts one or two dog hairs into each batch now for good luck. *grins* Basically you really really have to screw up to fail to make something that tastes like beer (although it may not be what you expected), or ruin a batch beyond all hope. Half the fun of this hobby is finding your own way, and tinkering with it. I love to learn new things, and I research new interests to death. I don't think I'll ever know everything about brewing, and that's a damn fine way to keep me engaged. I was once given some sage advice "the day you stop learning is the day you should just lay down and die." At this rate, I may just be immortal.
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If it works for you, it works... I'll not throw stones at a proven homebrew veteran's method. And just to be clear, there is a distinction between clean (no visible foreign matter), sanitized (a dramatic reduction of near invisible microbes that could cause an infection), and sterile (the complete absence of microbes by application of high heat and great pressure... by use of an autoclave, for example). Clean and sanitary are the best the average and above-average homebrewer can and should aim for. Not even bleach kills 100% of all microbes. I can say, however, that it costs me less water, considerably less space, and less time to go with StarSan, a Vinator and a bottle tree when sanitizing bottles right before I fill than it would if I were to fill each bottle with water and let it sit taking up precious counter/sink real estate for a few hours -- and that's only if I'm bottling a single batch that day! But, you are correct, once you have your bottling method down, it's really not that much of a hassle. About an hour -- from sanitizing, to stowing away the boxes filled with beer -- and with a little music, and a good brew, you can easily let your hands do the work while you let your mind happily wander. It's almost pleasantly trance-like. And of you have a helper... it zips by in no time at all.
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I've heard some horror stories about those handles snapping off the neck of a full carboy, as all the weight is on the weakest point of the bottle (the neck), and the wight is all poorly distributed to mostly one point (where the handle attaches). Was advised by my LHBS (local home brew shop) to use them only to transport empty carboys, and to use a brew hauler for full ones. Pretty much what I opted for.
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Don't sell glass carboys short... there are distinct advantages to both vessels, but here are a few in favor of using a glass carboy vs a plastic pail. Not trolling here, just wanting to weigh in with a view from the other side. Sure, the buckets are easy to clean, but they are prone to scratching -- even if you use something as innocent as the rough side of a sponge -- and even very tiny scratches can harbor microorganisms that even the most fastidious sanitizing can miss. Those little bugs can and will infect a batch of beer. This also goes for the "better bottles", which are the polycarbonate version of glass carboys. I'm sure you've not had problems in your 10+ years of brewing in pails, and I congratulate you on your good run, but your experience isn't universal. Glass carboys allow you to visually monitor the progress in your brew, they don't scratch easily (especially on the inside!), they don't stain, and most importantly they don't absorb odors (ever put your nose inside even the most well cleaned pickle bucket? It never loses that smell). Cleaning is as easy as a soak with 1 oz of OxiClean Free in 5 gallons of hot water for 10 minutes. Most crud falls right off as the Oxi attacks protein bonds. Anything still remaining is easily dislodged with the swipe of a carboy brush. On the topic of OxiClean Free (it must be the "free" version as is has no chlorine, perfumes or dyes), it is the reigning champ at cleaning and de-labeling beer bottles. Again, 1 oz of powder to a 5 gallon bucket of super hot water, and most labels fall right of after a few minutes. If the bottles hadn't been rinsed and a mold colony has started to form, that mold will come right off with no scrubbing in most cases (although I'd still hit it with a bottle brush to be sure). Be wary of the cheaper knock-off brands, I had to use 3 times the powder to achieve the same result as the Oxi brand. To be fair, the disadvantages of glass carboys are that they are heavier, being glass they will break if dropped from high enough (never handle a full carboy with wet hands!), they don't have a nifty built-in handle, and they do tend to cost more than the buckets. But! a thrifty homebrewer can set up feeds for their local Cragslist for "beer brew", "beer making", "carboy", and "homebrew" and snag some exceptional deals (and not just for carboys). There are also "brew haulers" -- that look like strappy bondage gear -- that make transporting glass carboys an absolute breeze. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I do own a 7 gallon plastic fermenting bucket. I use it when making melomels (fruit mead) as I need the extra space for the fruit.
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FWIW, here's a good online priming sugar calculator. Take the volumes included in pre-fab recipes with a grain of salt, and prime to the style of beer you've made... or even your own preference. Environmental factors will even change the amount of sugar from batch-to-batch of the same recipe. http://www.tastybrew.com/calculators/priming.html The "Beer Temperature" in that calculator should be the warmest temperature the beer was allowed to reach once fermentation is complete, and before you bottle. There will always be some residual CO2 in your brew, but the warmer it gets, the more rapidly it will off-gas that CO2, leaving less in suspension. The calculator will take that into consideration and adjust the amount of sugar accordingly.
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Wil, you're about to embark on a hobby that could very well consume you (as well as being a hobby you can consume!). As others have stated, you can start small and scale WAY up if you choose. Additionally, be prepared to set aside some space to stow equipment, fermenting beer, bottled beer, empty bottles, etc. Here's a few bits of advice from this type-a, O.C. homebrewer: - It bears repeating: sanitize, sanitize, sanitize, ad infinitum. StarSan is a perfect no-rinse sanitizer for every step of the process. Also, you could go the route of baking/dishwashing your bottles to sanitize, but StarSan and a bottle-tree and a Vinator bottle sanitizer are a simple, straightforward way to go. Worth the minuscule investment, and you'll use that bottle-tree so much you'll wonder why you didn't get it from the first. Never had an infected bottle. - Save yourself some mess and get a nylon grain bag to mash/sparge your grain in. It keeps the mash/wort clean, transfers the grain to the sparge vessel easily, and once rinsed out can be used as a hop bag to boil your hops in later, keeping the wort clean that way too. Rinse again, toss in the dishwasher, and you're done. Save that grain and make doggie biscuits for Seamus. I have a dynamite recipe that my pooch would do anything for. - Copper wort chiller + ice chest + cheap fountain pump from Harbor Freight + 30lbs of ice + 1 gallon of water = wort cooled from 212° to 68° in 9 minutes. Also, less wasted water. Use the melted ice to water your garden. - Cool your wort to below 70° before pitching your yeast, and for most ales keep it below 70° while fermenting. Fermentation is an exothermic process, so even if your room is cool it may not keep the brew cool enough. Get one of those cube ice-chests, put your fermenter in it, and fill the ice chest around it with cool tap water to 2/3 the way up the fermenter. That'll leech some heat out, and if the brew still stays too warm, you can throw in some frozen ice-bottles (old 20 oz soda bottles, filled with water and chucked in the freezer) to cool the water-bath down. That'll also help save your carpeting if you have a blow-off, unless it's a geyser. Place over the whole shebang a tall box that fits around the ice-chest and over the top of the airlock and you have an instant "dark place" to ferment that can be put in any room of the house (I use 2 boxes taped together for the height). - Buy an extra hydrometer. Trust me -- the consensus is that it's not a matter of if you'll break one, but when. $7 is a small investment. - Add your diluted bottling/priming sugar (corn, honey, whatever) to your bottling bucket, rack your beer on top of it, and give it a gentle stir before bottling. That'll make sure you get a nice, even amount in each and every bottle. - Fermenting and bottling generally follows the "1-2-3" guideline: 1 week in the primary fermenter, 2 weeks in secondary, 3 weeks conditioning in bottles before consuming (some folks don't bother with the secondary fermenter, so just go 3 weeks there) (darker/maltier beers benefit from longer than 3 weeks conditioning, so add another week if you can constrain yourself). Dump the dregs of the yeast from your fermenter into your compost bin, or if you have a septic system, flush it down to help improve septic health. - Get a "benchtop" bottle capper rather than the handheld one, it'll save your sanity later. Go to your local office-supplier and buy a pack of 3/4" round while labels (Avery 5408), print your brew-name on them and stick them to the caps after you've bottled as a good way to identify what's in the bottle. - Start your "pipeline" early. Once you clear the equipment of fermenting beer, start another batch -- 6 weeks is a long time to wait for more homebrew once you run out. I keep a minimum of 3 batches on hand, of different styles to have whatever suits my mood when I want a beer. - There are lots of time-saving gadgets that will make brewing/bottling/cleaning a lot simpler. Evaluate and purchase as you see fit, but never disregard the little doohickey that seems a little pricey if it will save you time and hassle over the long haul, especially if it helps with a tedious process. If the hassle of brewing overrides the joy of it, you tend to not want to do it as often -- and that's a damn shame. - Once you're comfortable with beer, think about making cider, mead or wine. You already have the basic equipment on hand, so why not make it multitask for you (thank you Alton). - Keep good notes (I have a spreadsheet in perpetual design tweak mode), use a log sheet as you brew. Use good quality water, but not distilled. Use fresh grain, hops and yeast. Have fun. Relax, don't worry, have a home brew. - Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize! I merged the excellent process listed here: (http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f39/easy-partial-mash-brewing-pics-75231) with a tremendous amount of the good advice John Palmer offers in How To Brew (legally free, online version found here: http://howtobrew.com), and condensed the whole thing down into 3 basic "crib-sheets" each covering a day in the process of brewing (brewing, racking to secondary, bottling). It helps me keep my process straight, and tweak it as I find improvements. See? Folks are right, brewing is a natural geek hobby. Just imagine that your logs are character sheets for each brew. Brewing itself is the act of making/crafting something for the sheer joy of it, regardless of the mess or hassle. Drinking that brew while sharing it with friends and family is the ultimate way of leveling up as a human being by spreading joy to those around you. Sorry about rambling on. I'm very passionate about brewing, and helping encourage others to take up the craft. One of us! One of us! Gooboo gaboo, gooboo gaboo!
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Jul 9, 2011