Sunday, April 23, 2006


Winds of change

This weekend has marked a small re-routing of my homebrewing journey, I think. I've come to realize that while it would be very easy to drop several grand and buy one of MoreBeer's brew sculptures, I find myself wanting more than what they can provide. Hands down I think they've got the best kettles, mash tuns, and HLTs a homebrewer could want (and certainly well made for the amount of hastle it would take to buy something and weld in couplers for valves and thermowells), however in my heart I really want more.

I want to build my brew sculpture. I want it in indoors, I want it stainless and gorgeous, but it needs to be more than what MoreBeer sells... and I want it to be very "ME", if that makes any sense. Truth is I've got programming skills that I should capitalize on, and I've designed more software and written more code than I care to admit... and if you think I'm your typical "Hey... yeah, I can program" type then I've got some sites to direct you to (although a Google on me will probably take you there)...

I want control. I want to build it from the ground up. I want to wire the interface with the thermocouples, solenoid valves, float switches, and other input/output devices. I want to write a computer application that connects me to those electronic devices and have it seethe turbo-geek from every button and nerd-tastic temperature chart displayed. It must be bold, ridiculous, and a pure show of pomp. But that's me... A psychopomp.

And at the day, I will most likely spend way more money than I would buying something off the shelf, but it'll be mine, and it'll be me.

The impetus for all this came from two things - my recent investigations into designing a float-switch relay circuit so I don't have to really worry about sparge water levels anymore... and some conversations at the last FSB meeting this past Friday.

Enough of that. Tonight I kegged my Hopocalypse... Yowsa. Its a beast (9.3% ABV), and it doesn't take prisoners. I am torn as to whether I want it to mellow with age, or stay as hoptacular as it currently is... Guess that's what you get for 9oz of hops per 5 gallons. I also kegged my McBride's Strong Ale clone... separated it into 2 3 gallon kegs. One keg has 2oz of bourbon-soaked medium-toast oak cubes, the other has nothing but beer. The cubes weigh more than dry cubes due to the bourbon, and the bourbon I soaked them in pulled some of the oakiness out, so I'm not to worried about it being overwhelming... but we shall see. I still have 6oz of cubes (~3oz if they were dry) if anyone is interested. I also have 4oz dry (probably 8oz) of medium-toast oak chips that are bourbon-soaked (all for 6+ months, so they're totally saturated).

I am also in the process of overhauling my brew room in the basement - I finally have more of a game plan put together, and hopefully I'll be mostly done by the time May rolls around so you all can see it.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


JB @ Twin Lakes

John Biggins had a quick report back after last night's meeting activities regarding Twin Lakes... I will be following up with those guys to with a formal thank you and I'll try to get a meeting scheduled there soon. Its a bit of a drive for folks, but if there is interest we can certainly try to make it happen...


Dropped the empty keg of donated RTE. 52 PILSNER back to TWIN LAKES today. Mark and part owners Dave & Jim (I think) were well pleased that we enjoyed the beer. They also mentioned they would be around to supply grain, etc. for any interested brewers!

They really want us to be a part of their 'marketing' network, & with the free keg last night, they got off to a good start.


Notes: I tried the GREENVILLE PALE at the brewery. Nice, well balanced and very subdued. Very light on the hops; surprising as I was expecting a typical Cascade / Sierra Nevada-type pale.

Their stout brewing is forthcoming, once they get enough beer to fill their tanks.

They have about a dozen accounts now (Buckeys & Logans House have them on tap) which have been moving the beer well & are expanding w/ increasing production (Newark soon. Homegrown Cafe is interested).

Their 1st seasonal will most likely be a light Summer lager (not an IPA like it says on the website), but that is a way off schedule for now.

The Pilsner on tap at the brewery was as cloudy as at the meeting (the Pale was clear). The cloudiness is due to the fact that (a) they are purposely selling unfiltered product and (b) they ferment & lager in the same tank; no transfer to secondary tank. The Pilsner yeast is the CZECH/BUDVAR strain. The batch was extra cloudy due to the non-flocculent nature of the yeast & their zeal to get it out for kegging, so it is not a lager/farmhouse style as I speculated at the meeting.

As to whether the tours will continue to be $22, that's up in the air, but as FSB members, I think we may get a pass. They also want to have a Club Meeting with us or an additional Sat tour like we did a couple months back, so the Powers-that-be should look into it.

Well ... off to the Stewart's Barleywine Fest !


Friday, April 21, 2006


Heavyweight News

Here's some more news from the Heavyweight Brewing Company!
Hello all-

We're hosting another open-house on Sunday, April 30th, from 1-4pm. We'll be pouring the 2006 Baltus OVS, the Wee Whale Scotch Ale and the Ste-ve' (a Belgian-style Pale). We'll also have all three in bottle for take-away. We would also ask that you bring some non-perishable food for our local Foodbank collection (you know, cans and dry goods), Last time we collected 450 pounds thanks to you. Gus, our trusty open-house barkeep, would like to thank you for your gratitude (tips) in the past and wants us to remind you that all of these funds have been used in the support of the Haiti mission he is involved with. Ask him about it next time you see him.

Slow Food Philly is having a Pig roast and BBQ bash at Yards Brewery on Sunday, May 21, from 2-5 pm. Lynn Buono, (from Feast Your Eyes and Amelia's BBQ), has kindly agreed to cater the event. There will also be great beer from both Heavyweight and Yards. This will be a great opportunity to meet lots of Slow Food folks and enjoy some fine BBQ and craft brews! Tickets are $35 for members and $40 for non-members.

We'll also be at the following events:
May 5 - Beer and Cheese Tasting w/Yards Brewing at DiBruno's in Philly
May 12 - Long Island Beer Fest at the Huntington Hilton
May 20 - Brandywine Fest at Iron Hill - Media, PA

Hope to see you here or there,
Tom and Peggy

Monday, April 17, 2006


Big Easter Brew

Saturday I stepped out of my comfort zone and brewed a really really big batch of beer (at least for me)... 20 gallons. I have to admit it is one of the more exhilarating experiences I've had recently. I tried out a couple of new toys, learned so important lessons about brewing big batches, and found that I really really love it... So if I ever end up investing in a big stainless system, it'll most likely be sized for 20 gallon batches (of normal gravity, or 10/15 gallon of high-gravity).

I calculated the material cost for this batch at around $75. The ingredients were as follows:

I split the mashes into 2 tuns, used my 14 gallon kettle as a grant, then pumped the sparged wort into the 25 gallon kettle on my burner. I split the yeast cake from my batch of Stewart's McBride Strong Ale 4 ways, and it is doing fantastic. The only minor glitch was not filling my carboys evenly and boiling off more water than anticipated, which I compensated for when adding the honey. So... here are some pics!

Here you can see the wort pump on a skid w/ a water pump, the 25 gallon kettle, the 2 mash tuns, HLT, and my 14 gallon grant. It was a glorious day to brew beer.

Pumping the wort up into the 25 gallon kettle... beats trying to lift that much hot, 170 degree liquid and pouring it in...

Filling the kettle full after sparging the second mash tun... it ultimately came up to the handle rivets you can see there. YUM! Black crude goodness... and a whole lot of it!!!

I have other pictures, but stupid blogger won't let me upload more than 3. You all will have to wait until I put them on my personal site or the FSB gallery.

I've got 7 full carboys right now... Wow. That's alot of beer. Quick calculation tells me I've already brewed 70 gallons this year... Sweet.

Meeting this friday... don't forget! We have to change venues b/c Hank bailed on hosting. Looks like it will probably be at Scott's house down in Middletown. I'm sure he'll send details out soon.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


The bad and the good... and the REALLY good...

The bad first:

2 of my favorite beers kicked tonight: Black Honey Ale and My Wife's Nutty Brown Ale. They were excellent beers, and I have filed their recipes under the "House Beers" category in Promash designating that they are essentially standard recipes to be brewed several times each year.

The good:

The kegs kicked after counterpressure filling 12 bottles of each of them. I think I'll probably enter them in the upcoming Buzz Off competition in June. The Nut Brown definitely... not sure if the judges would appreciate the Black Honey, since it is such a specialty / sweet beer.

The REALLY good:

Now I've got two new beers on tap: My Oak Aged Vanilla Porter (5 gal), that many many many folks love, and 2.5 gallons of my last batch of Nasty Habit Abbey Dubbel. It has finally come to be the beer I originally envisioned it. Belgian style, but not necessarily belgian. I will have to bring some to the meeting in two weeks and see what folks think.

In addition, that also means I have 2 more empty kegs to fill. Considering I've got 15 gallons to keg in primaries right now, and another 10 gallons of Black Honey in another few weeks, followed up shortly thereafter by 10 gallons of Saison... I'll need the room.

This hobby rules. I can't believe I used to code VB and websites for a hobby - WTF was I thinking??!?!?

Friday, April 07, 2006


Pale Beer Time

Well, the summer is coming, so it's time to brew some pale beers. After next weekend's 20 gallon batch of Black Honey Ale, I'll be set for dark beers for a while. Fortunately that one is good any time of year, but I am decidedly light on light beer right now... 5 gallons of Amarillo Pale Ale in a keg and just under a case of bottles is pretty much it. Well, I have another case or so of Belgian Wit, so that's not too bad.

So, my brewing schedule is looking like the following:

I think that'll probably carry me through the summer and perhaps even then some. My heart breaks because I have a Scottish and Scotch Ale as well as a Porter I want to brew, so maybe I'll be able to sneak them in sometime. I really love dark beers... Formulating them, brewing them, tasting them, drinking them... Its all heavenly. The porter should be exciting since I'll be using specialty grains from one place - Malteries Franco-Belges. It'll use some Caramunich 120L, KilnCoffee, KilnBlack, and a touch of a few others... I can almost smell the wort boiling right now...

My hops are shooting up like mad. Some are well over 2 feet already. I've got shoots coming out all over the damn place. I'll probably wait a few more days and then prune back so only the biggest 3 or 4 shoots remain... (at least on the Cascade and Nugget). My Liberty hops are sucking yet again this year, but perhaps they just need better placement. If they fail to do well I'll move them to the side yard next spring.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


[BUZZ] Judges & Entries Needed, 13th Annual BUZZ Off June 3rd

Brewers Unlimited Zany Zymurgists (BUZZ) is proud to announce that the 13th
annual BUZZ Off home brew competition
will be held on Saturday, June 3rd at
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in West Chester, PA. For another year we
will be a qualifying event for the prestigious Masters Championship of
Amateur Brewing (MCAB) as well as the Delaware Valley Homebrewer of the
Year. All BJCP recognized styles (2004 guidelines) including meads and
ciders are eligible for entry. We are also having a special bottle label
category this year. For complete details and forms, please visit the BUZZ
web site at

Entries will be accepted between May 13th and May 26th. For drop off and
mail in locations please refer to the BUZZ web site. Please, do not mail
entries to Iron Hill.

BJCP Judges and stewards will be needed. If you are interested please
contact me or another committee member (contact information can be found on
the web site). All judges must be BJCP certified (any ranking).

Good luck and cheers!

Christopher Clair
buzzclub at

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Motorized Mill Madness

As promised, pictures of the motorized grain mill.

I made the front section of the mill housing hinged so I could drop it down and use a brush to clean dust off the rollers and inside of the mill. I also cut up a 2 gallon Ziploc bag freezer bag and used it as my "chute" to help direct it into the bin, bucket, or whatever is placed below the mill. It rocks!!

This is part of my birthday present for this year - my other present is going to be a vacuum sealer and some oxygen barrier bags so I can start storing my hops a little better. Buying in bulk is so much cheaper... And Joe at How Do You Brew? said he could help me out with the bags if I ever needed any.