Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Safety glasses are not optional!!!!

If there's one thing I do not compromise on, it's safety glasses. As soon as my students enter lab, they are required to don their safety glasses. After a few terse reminders early in the semester, they usually catch on and rarely need any reminders.

Through the course of my chemistry career, there have been a number of times I was thankful I was wearing safety glasses. Today was another.

In Organic Chemistry lab today, we were doing the oxidation of cyclohexanol to cyclohexanone using sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and then the oxidation of the ketone to adipic acid using nitric acid.

The nitric acid oxidation of cyclohexanone to adipic acid is done on a small scale. About 1 mL of concentrated nitric acid is used in the reaction. The ketone is added to the reaction, and it is heated in a sand bath for about a minute. One of my students was heating the reaction. She called me over to say it didn't seem to be reacting. The boiling chip was either floating on the surface or stuck to the wall of the tube. I tapped the reaction tube and the boiling chip sank. Suddenly, the reaction fired out of the tube like a 1 mL volcano. Some of the hot nitric acid flying through the air hit me in the face and on the arm. My student was hit on the hand. We both paused for a second and then went to the sink to wash off and neutralize any acid left with sodium bicarbonate.

Hindsight being 20/20, I realize now the sand was very hot and the reaction was probably superheated. The boiling chip sent the boiling into overdrive.

Having hot nitric acid land on bare skin feels like having an exacto knife stuck through to the subcutaneous tissue. It is unpleasant. My burgundy colored shirt was turning white in spots.

As for the safety glasses, if I wasn't wearing them, I am sure to have been in a real world of hurt. Who knows, from serious pain to blindness. I'm pretty sure hot concentrated nitric acid on the cornea is not going to do any good.

The good news is no one was seriously hurt.

The moral of the story safety glasses are NOT optional under any circumstance in a laboratory... even if you are a biochemist. Biochemists are, in my experience, the worst offenders of this policy.

UPDATE: No serious harm done. My face is in good shape. Surprisingly, only one yellowish spot formed and that was gone by today. No scars. I didn't shave today, because I didn't want to irritate the skin. My shirt survived an initial washing, but I'm not expecting it to survive too long. If experience serves me correctly, it's structural integrity has been compromised by the acid catalyzed hydrolysis of the beta-1,4-glycosidic linkages holding the glucose molecules together. Not to mention all of the other possible things boiling concentrated nitric acid can do.

Allow me to repeat the moral of the story. Safety glasses are not optional. I've had students complain about having to wear them when we weren't using anything dangerous. I tell them (and will continue to do so with renewed vigor) at that point it is not about the safety, it is about the habit. I am training my students to be habitual safety glasses wearers. You never know.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bottling and a followup or two

Tonight I bottled my Anchor Steam clone. Before doing so, I checked the post I made about my Anchor Steam clone about 2 weeks ago and realized there were a couple of comments I had not addressed. Now, this is just a young blog (1 month old tomorrow) and I cannot allow reader comments to go unanswered.

First, the ubiquitous Milkshake wrote:
Anchor Brewery: their Liberty Ale is the most respectable from their entire offerings - the rest (including Anchor Steam) is unremarkable IMHO; I would rather have Brooklyn Lager over any of the Anchor stuff.

How do you emulate the steamy shallow vessel - that got the Anchor Steam its name - at home?

Also, if you happen to go to SF, they have tours and beer tasting, it is spiffy shiny brewery - museum like. Their copper brewing vessels are remarkably small for their throughput. The tour + tasting is free, you just have to call the brewery and make an appointment. The staff is very friendly and many of them have notable "beer bloom" red vasodilatation in their faces.

Thanks for the comment Milkshake. First, let me say... SEE, this is what I was talking about in my last post. Nothing other than Anchor Steam is available in MN. The only way to discover great beers is to tour the country. Everywhere I travel, I make it a point to discover local beers (this should be a post on its own). I've never had the chance to try anything else from the Anchor Brewery. I do not dispute your claim. I just have very little experience.

Emulating a brewing technique or environment is often difficult or impossible. The next best thing is to achieve the characteristic through other means (i.e. modification of ingredients). Sometimes, this works. Usually, it doesn't. But, my goal is to not make a perfect replica, but to use a clone as a starting point for my own recipes. Cloning just gets me closer to a taste I want.

I have been in SF and I am very ashamed to say I have not been to the brewery. I will slink away now.....

Moving on... An anonymous poster wrote:
A brew a week is a great way to start the year!

1) I assume you keg your brews... what's your setup like?

2) What's the best stout that you've brewed?


Let me respond to Mr. Anonymous. No, I sadly do not keg my beer. I dearly wish I did. I do however, expect to be doing so within the next year. I am building a bar in my basement and would be a fool not to. The best stout I have ever brewed is my Champion Cream Stout. It only took me a few tries to get it right, but I really like it. When I was a grad student in a state next to Iowa (I don't want to give away too many details) the fellow in charge of the NMRs was a bit of a rebel/renegade/enigmatic/genius, whatever you want to call him. After tasting a sample, he paid me to brew a batch of the cream stout. I did so and delivered it to his office. I assumed it would be taken to his home... nope. The entire 2 cases was consumed in our building. His disguise was to pour it into his coffee mug. Once the head was gone, it looked just like coffee.

Back to the Anchor Steam clone... I'm not sure if it will turn out as a match or not, but after tasting a sample before bottling, I know that this is going to be a very good beer. Now I have to wait a week before opening a bottle. I hate this part. The week usually ends up being 5 days.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Beer and geography

I live in southern Minnesota (USA). I love living here. I love the fact that a 120°F temperature range between summer and winter is normal. There are many other reasons why I love living here, but that isn't the point of this post. The point is to point out one of the things I really hate about living here. Beer distribution.

There must be some double secret embargo on the import of good beers into southern Minnesota. Sure, there are a few, but not enough. I just discovered Longshot from Samuel Adams. Longshot is six pack featuring three winners of a homebrew competition held by Sam Adams. This is fantastic and I was so excited to find it (more on this below). Then I realized, this competition has been around since 2001. I had never heard of it. The fact is, MN is not the first place they are going to distribute this beer, not by a longshot.

The bottom line is, MN beer drinkers are just too accustomed to the bland macrobrews of the mega brewers to demand better beers (in effective enough numbers, at least). Now, don't get me wrong, I do not dislike macrobrews. I drink plenty of them. I will never turn away a Bud or Miller or PBR or High Life. These are fine drinking beers, BUT THERE IS REALLY GOOD BEER OUT THERE!!!! Don't be afraid of it. A case in point:

The number one beer in Minnesota (or so the legend goes. I have no data to back this up) is Michelob Golden Light. Be honest, have any of you who living outside of MN or Iowa ever heard of Michelob Golden Light? Minnesotans cannot get enough of this stuff, and I will admit, I don't mind it. However, I believe the distribution area is primarily MN and Iowa. They stack this stuff to the ceilings in liquor stores.

Good beers will eventually find their way here. Moose Drool for example can be found in stores and on tap. Moose Drool is one of my favorite brown ales. It is from the Big Sky brewing company in Missoula, Montana. So, why is Moose Drool here and not other beers like, Mirror Pond Pale Ale from the Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon or even Fat Tire from the New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado? Well, when I lived in Montana, I noticed there were a LOT of transplanted Minnesotans in MT. I think MT is to MN what OR is to CA. The Minnesotans that came back to MN from MT begged for Moose Drool. And so, it is here. Only time and persistent requesting will improve the beer selection in southern MN.

My point of this post is that we are missing out on a lot of good beers that a lot of other people have access to. That does not mean we don't have good beer here in MN. There are in fact a few fantastic breweries in MN. Two of my favorites are the Summit Brewing Company in St. Paul and August Schell brewery in New Ulm. Summit makes my favorite pale ale. The Schell brewery is the nation's 2nd oldest family owned brewery, and they make great stuff. They also contract brew a lot of beers.

My solution to lack of access: brew my own. That's what I do.

As for the Longshot beers. I drank two of them (the Boysenberry wheat and the Dortmunder Style Export). Both were very good. I like the Dortmunder best. The maltiness and hopiness were superb. Bruce Stott, the fellow who made it, could deliver a case a week to my house and I would not complain.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Why we need scientists.

This is why we need scientists.

[Try this if the above link doesn't work.]

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bottling sucks and oxygen rocks!!!!

I hate the bottling part of homebrewing. But, until I can afford a kegging system, bottles it is. The best bottles to use are the returnable type. Returnable bottles are not as common these days, but they are still easy to find. The really "hard" part is having to buy the beer and empty the bottles. Oh my! What pains I must go through for my craft.

My beer of choice that comes in returnable bottles is Hauenstein. "Hauey" is a semi-local beer contract brewed by the fine folks at Schell's brewery. At $13 a case, the high quality bottles with beer are cheaper than buying empty bottles from a homebrew supply store. The beer isn't too bad. A typical American lager. Not exceptional, but $13 for a case of good bottles makes it worth it.

I bottled my Pilsner Urquell clone last night. As I've mentioned before, I sanitize my bottles in the dishwasher. That's a lot easier than washing them by hand. However, thanks to Chemistry, sanitizing is pretty easy.

There are a lot of sanitizing agents used in homebrewing. The cheapest and easiest to obtain is bleach (sodium hypochlorite, NaClO). However, using bleach requires a lot of rinsing. When sanitizing 50 bottles, excessive rinsing can get annoying. I prefer to use sodium percarbonate (a.k.a. One Step sanitizer). The sodium percarbonate (2Na2CO3•3H2O2 -sorry, I haven't figured out HTML subscripts yet [UPDATE: Got it. Thanks Ψ*Ψ.) releases hydrogen peroxide when dissolved in water. The H2O2 does its thing on the wee beasties, killing them dead. The byproducts are sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) water and oxygen. These don't have to be rinsed away. And that means more time for tasting.....

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

337 Calorie State of the Union Address

I did a little experiment tonight. I rode an exercise bike while watching the State of the Union Address to see how many Calories I could burn during the speech. I don't get political very often (I don't dislike politics, but I do tend to dislike politicians. They annoy me), but I do try to watch every State of the Union Address.

Anyways, I jumped on my recently purchased Schwinn 213 recumbent bike and started peddling. I set the bike program to "Pikes Peak." This wasn't such a good idea. The program starts out at "ahhh, what a nice ride" and over the course of an hour, ramps up the resistance to "kill me now!" Thankfully, Bush is no Clinton. A 90 minute address would have killed me. Bush's 50 minute address was just about right.

When all was said and done, the computer told me I had spent 337 Calories of energy (that's about 1400 kJ). From now on, this is how I will measure all State of the Union Addresses.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Butanedione, a.k.a. diacetyl, is a chemical occasionally found in beer. For most styles, it is undesired. For some styles, low levels are acceptable, but typically, high levels of butanedione (diacetyl) indicate something went wrong during the fermentation.

The first two reactions occur inside the yeast cell. They are catalyzed by yeast enzymes. The oxidation of the acetolactic acid to butanedione occurs after the acetolactic acid leaves the cell. Another fate of acetolactic acid is the formation of valine. Malt that contains high levels of valine favors the formation of more butandione.

The butanedione can be reabsorbed by the cell and enzymatically reduced to 2,3-butanediol. This usually occurs after 7-10 days, and diacetyl levels can noticeably decrease.

High levels of butanedione in the finished beer indicate either poor sanitation (which favor bacterial production of butanedione), too much oxygen, poor malt, or poor yeast.

Someday, I am going to find a procedure for the analysis of butandione. I will test all of my beer at various stages. Now all I need is the time....

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Boiling water is hard

Hydrogen bonds are strong. It takes a lot of energy to break them. Especially when trying to boil 11 L of wort (Wort, BTW, is beer before it gets fermented). Thanks to the high heat capacity of water, getting to the boiling point takes a lot of hydrocarbon fuel.

Tonight I brewed a Brown Ale, and while waiting nearly 30 minutes for the brew kettle to get it's boil on, I had some time to consider the thermochemistry (I linked that page because it has some good math in it and it hasn't been updated in 8 years!!! That is my pet peeve... the lack of updates, not the math.).

When my wife and I bought the stove, we went with for the JGB900SEF GE stove complete with "Power Boil!!!" This baby kicks out 15,800 kJ per hour (15,000 BTU/hr). I was under the impression that this thing should be able to boil 11 L (3 gal) of water in about 3 minutes. Not so (and how silly of me).

Assuming the water starts at 19°C and boils at 104°C (> 100°C due to the boiling point elevation colligative property) the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature by 85° C is: 11,000g x 4.184 J/g °C x 85°C x .001 kJ/J = 3910 kJ.

If the stove kicks out 15,800 kJ/hr, assuming 100% efficiency, it should take about 15 minutes. Obviously, some heat is lost to the surroundings. What I didn't do tonight was measure the amount of time needed to boil the solution. If I do measure that, I will be able to determine how efficient my burner really is.

I don't know how I can survive without knowing this piece of information. Next time I will keep track of the time.

Once the reaction reached a boil. It was kept at a boil for 1 hour. During this one hour 15,800 kJ of heat was produced from the combustion of methane. Methane has a heat of combustion of 900 kJ/mol. During just the boil, I used 15,800 kJ / 900 kJ/mol = 17.5 moles of CH4. That means at 1 atm and 20°C (293 K), I used 420 L of methane gas. That's a lot.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Anchor Steam

I brewed a version of Anchor Steam tonight. It has been years since I actually drank one. Apparently, Anchor Steam is a true American beer. A beer unique in style to anything else and not a derivative of European beers. I'm willing to believe that.

I like to follow recipes during the first attempt or two at cloning a beer. This time I used Clone Brews by Tess and Mark Szamatulski. It's a great book. The recipes is as follows:

Steeped 14 oz of 80°L crystal malt at 150° for 20 minutes. Sparged with 1.5..... wait.... what the hell am I doing... I'm a scientist... actually, a chemist!!!!! JACS or JOC would never accept an experimental written like this. Maybe Tet. Let. , but surely not Org Let.

Experimental Section
All materials were purchased from Midwest Brewing Supply in Minneapolis, MN. All ingredients were used as supplied. The northern brewer hop pellets contained 6.8% alpha acids.

General Procedure for the Activation of the Yeast

The California Lager Yeast was purchased from Wyeast (#2112) and fermented in the presence of 28 grams of an aqueous solution of plain light dry malt extract for 24 hours at 20° C. Expulsion of carbon dioxide gas indicated the yeast's viability for fermentation.

Brewing Procedure
Crushed crystal malt (400 g) was added to a flat bottom stainless steel flask containing 3.78 L of water heated to 68° C over a natural gas stove. After 20 minutes, this solution was filtered through cheesecloth. The filtrate was washed with 3.78 L of water at 60° C. To the reaction, Alexander's Sun Country pale liquid malt extract syrup (1.8 L) and plain light dry malt extract (1.4 kg) was added. An additional 3.78 L of water at 100° C was added to the reaction flask. The solution was stirred and heated to 103° C. To this boiling mixture, northern brewer hop pellets (48 g) were added. The solution was boiled for 45 minutes. Additional northern brewer hop pellets (17 g), Irish moss (5 g) and an 1.0 L of water at 100° C were added to the reaction flask. After boiling for 14 minutes, a final addition of norther brewer hop pellets (17 g) was added. This solution was boiled for 1 minute. The heat was removed and the wort was cooled rapidly to 32° C using a wort chiller. The solution was transfered to a 25L fermentation flask. The wort was diluted with 7.6 L of water and allowed to cool. When the temperature of the wort was 25° C, the activate yeast solution was added to the wort. The reaction was allowed to ferment at 18-20°C for 7 days.

The work-up procedure and characterization data will be published in a future edition of this blog.

Friday, January 12, 2007

How many licks does it take....

Since the rhetorical question, "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?" was asked in 1970, billions of people have tried. Confess, you and your friends probably tried. As it turns out, there seems to be no correct answer. Even the Tootsie Pop people don't know, despite a few scientific studies.

I've started my own study to answer the question, "How many drinks does it take to empty a beer?" Actually, I am interested in finding out the average volume of a normal drink of beer.

Feel free to join in and report your own data. Just obey the following experiment guidelines:

1) The drink must be a "normal-sized" drink. No gulps or sips. Resist the temptation to drink the remaining liquid in the glass in one large gulp.
2) The liquid ideally should be beer. Although, any carbonated beverage would do.
3) The beer must be drunk from a standard pint glass. Not a bottle or can (Consumption from a bottle or can could be a separate study). A 400 or 500 mL beaker also works nicely (I have a set at home).
4) Drink a standard 355 mL (12 oz) sample and count the number of drinks. Then calculate the average. Repeat as necessary to obtain meaningful results.

My results from last night: 8 drinks per 355 mL, repeated in triplicate (just like any good quantitative analytical analysis). My average swallow volume is 44 mL (1.5 ounces). I am going to repeat the experiment tonight, but I am going to increase my container volume to 709 mL (24 ounces).

According to: Nilsson et. al., the average swallow volume of a healthy adult is about 25.6 mL. If my swallow volume is indeed 44 mL, I am way above average.

The study continues.....


In a second experiment, I consumed 710 mL (24 fl oz) from one container. It required 17 swallows to do so. The average volume was 42 mL. This is very close to the results from experiment #1.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Stand and be recognized

I'm just a blogging newborn. I'm a new blog in a sea full of blogging blogs. I haven't even posted anything good yet. Wait until my next post. I'm going to report on the average volume of a swallow of beer. I'm currently collecting data. That will be impressive and then I will make my name and fame.

See, I'm not as clever as people like The Chem Blog, or Carbon-based Curiosities or The Disgruntled Chemist (among so many, many more). They have really good chemistry stuff. Or, at least stuff that's good.

Anyways, you are asking, what's the point. Well, the blogs mentioned above have opened up their blogs for any and all comments. A "stand and be recognized" type of thing. Now at the risk of destroying my delicate and fragile self-esteem, why don't you just take a moment to stop and say "Hi." That's all. Just say "hi." Don't feel obliged to leave any other pleasantries (unless you want to). Just say "hi"


Does it come with a toilet?

Check out

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Red Hook ESB clone

I brewed tonight!!!!! I did a Red Hook ESB clone. This time I brewed an extract kit from one of my favorite suppliers. I get most of my stuff from either Midwest Homebrewing in Minneapolis or Northern Brewer in St. Paul.

I like to do kits occasionally, especially for beer types I've never tried before. I've never done a bitter.

I got this kit from Midwest. The recipe is as follows:

4 lbs Alexanders LME
3 lbs Light DME
16 oz Caramel 60
3 oz Tettnang hops
0.5 oz Willamette hops
Wyeast American Ale #1056 (ahhh, good ol' 1056)

16 ounces of Caramel 60 was steeped in 1.5 gallons of water at 155°F. [I know what your saying, "you started a sentence with a number! How dare you!" I say, "get over it!"] I put the grains in a muslin bag and put the bag in the cold water. Once the water got to 155°F, I let it sit for about 30 minutes. I removed the grains and sparged them with about 1 gallon of water at about 130°F.

OK, I have to stop here. I just want to point out for the record that I hate anything that isn't metric, and basically the only other thing is the English units (a.k.a. American units). Gallons, inches, pounds, ounces (both liquid and dry), yard.... Good grief, how inconvenient can it get? I am a fan of the metric system. I wish so desperately that the US would switch. The American system is so silly. OK, back to the brewing.

The malt extracts were added to the water and the mixture was heated to a boil. 2 ounces of the Tettnang Hops were added to a nylon bag and placed in the pot [You: "You're really starting to annoy me with the numbers at the start of a sentence!!!!". Me: "Shut up and read!!!] This was boiled for about 60 minutes during which time I got my daughters ready for bed, watched Emeril Live for a while with my kids (it's my 3 year old's favorite non-cartoon show) and pulled my 1.6 year old out of the toilet...literally.

0.5 ounces of Willamette hops and 1 ounce of Irish Moss were added for the last 15 minutes. 1 ounce of Tettnang hops was added for the last 5 minutes [Me, in a preemptive strike, "It's a blog!!!! Not Nature or Science. I'll start sentences with numbers if I want to, jerk!!!!!!!!! and I'll use a lot of these: !!!!!!!!"] I cooled the wort with my homemade wort chiller and dumped it into my fermentation bucket when it was at 100°F. I topped it off to 5 gallons with cold water and pitched the yeast.

I put the bucket in the basement in my utility sink to keep it off of the cold floor and to make any blow off easier to clean up.

It was a good brew night. I now have the following:

Primary 1: Red Hook ESB clone
Primary 2: Pilsner Urquell clone
Secondary 1: Belgian Ale (Fat Tire clone, try #2)
Secondary 2: Oatmeal Stout
Bottles: Bavarian Helles, Fat Tire clone #1, Irish Stout, Pale Ale, India Pale Ale (I really need to start naming my beers).

Sunday, January 7, 2007

I know I'm a nerd, but this is ridiculous

OK, I went to and took the nerd test. I scored the following:

I am nerdier than 97% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Apparently, I'm a "Supreme Nerd God." I boldly claim to be a nerd, but a "Supreme Nerd God" is a bit over the top!!! Don't you think?

So what if I have a calculator preference (TI BTW) and know more than 85% of the elements. For the record, I don't know how to do any programming. I don't even know much about HTML.

Oh well, I guess it could have been worse. At least it didn't tell me I was ugly too.

OK, that's enough procrastinating for tonight. I need to write a syllabus for tomorrow. Actually three of them, but I don't know what the plural of syllabus is. I need one for Biochemistry, General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry.

Where's the brewing?

I know. You are asking, where's the brewing stuff? Well, I haven't brewed a batch since January 1st. My next batch is going to be a ESB. Something close to Red Hook. I love microbreweries that list details about the beers they brew. Obviously, they don't give away all of the secrets to making their beer, but it is interesting and useful if you brew your own beer.

For example: Red Hook ESB is made from 2-row Klages barley and Caramel 60. The hops used are Willamette and Tettnang. The bitterness is 28 IBU and the original gravity is 1.05454. My hydrometer doesn't measure to 6 significant digits, so I'll just get it close to 1.05. The alcohol by volume is 5.77%

What the specific gravity indirectly tells me is the amount of malt in the brew. The % ethanol by volume can be used to calculate the final gravity. An OG of 1.055 and a ABV of 5.77% translates to a FG of about 1.015 The bitterness tells me the amount of hops (soon, I'll write a post on the chemistry of hops). With this data and an authentic sample (i.e. samples) of Red Hook ESB, I should be able to get a pretty good clone.

The major and most critical component is the yeast. The yeast make the beer what the beer is. Everything depends on the yeast. There are a lot of yeasts available and they all make beer a bit differently. Yeast do not just make ethanol. They make a whole lot more chemicals (someday, I'll go into this in more detail as well). I'm sure if I asked the folks at Red Hook for a sample of their yeast, they would politely tell me to piss-off. However, the good biochemists and microbiologists at Wyeast Labs will gladly sell me anything they have.

The bottom line is that in about 2 months, I may or may not have a beer that tastes likes Red Hook ESB. If not, I'll have a beer that still tastes pretty good.

Firefox, good. Safari, not as good

I just made the permanent switch to Firefox (the browser, not the movie) as my means for navigating the internet. I was using Safari, but eventually the limitations really started to annoy me. Once I started writing this blog, I had to make the switch. Safari makes editing anything impossible.

I'm not going to switch to the evil empire of Microsoft and use IE, and Netscape is so 1998.

So far, I love Firefox 2. It does more than Safari does and it doesn't do some of the annoying things Safari does. I like it.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Why taking specific gravity readings are important

Today I was a negligent scientist and brewer.

A measurement used ubiquitously in brewing is specific gravity (SG). SG is used to gauge the extent of fermentation and to estimate the alcohol content.

Specific gravity is defined as the density of a substance divided by the density of water. The density of water is 1 g/mL (technically only at 4° C), so for practical purposes, SG is the density of the substance divided by 1 g/mL. Not your most interesting mathematical operation. What it essentially does is give a value without units. This value would be (and is) more accurately described as "relative density."

SG is measured using a hydrometer, a sealed glass tube that floats in the liquid. The deeper it sinks, the less dense the liquid is.

Wort (the beer before it is fermented... so, it really isn't beer) is comprised of water and sugar (as well as many other things). This has a typical SG of 1.050. As the sugars get converted to ethanol, the SG drops. This is because the ethanol is less dense than the aqueous sugar solution. Pure ethanol (100% v/v) has a density of 0.789 g/mL. The fermentation does something else of note. Before fermentation, water is the only solvent and the sugars (and other things) are dissolved solids. When the dissolved sugars gets converted to ethanol, the ethanol (a liquid completely miscible with water) becomes a co-solvent.

The bottom line of all of this is that when the fermentation is finished and all of the fermentable sugars are gone, the SG stops dropping. When a homebrewer measures the SG 3 days in a row with no change in the reading, the fermentation is finished.

So, why was I a negligent scientist and brewer? Well, I didn't take SG readings of my Fat Tire Clone #2 (FTC2). I assumed it was time to bottle. So, I went through the process of cleaning bottles and sanitizing them in the dishwasher. I went downstairs to prepare the bottling bucket and get 1 cup of malt for the bottle priming. It was then that I noticed a positive pressure in the airlock of the secondary containing the FTC2. I watched for a few seconds and, sure enough, a bubble of fresh CO2 bubbled out: a sure sign the fermentation was NOT done. The SG is currently 1.014. I'll measure again in a few days.

So, I have a dishwasher full of sanitized bottles. I'm not sure I can get away with leaving them in there until next week.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

What's wrong with my Fat Tire Clone?

I recently attempted to clone Fat Tire. If you aren't familiar, Fat Tire is brewed by the New Belgium Brewery. It is widely available in places where I DON'T live. In other words, it is very hard to find in southern Minnesota. So, my solution: clone it.

I followed a recipe in Scott R. Russell's book "North American Clone Brews" (I love this book). I followed the partial mash recipe and used Wyeast 1214. Things went as advertised, but when I first tasted it, I was disappointed. I can't describe what is wrong. I need to train my palate to ID off flavors and the underlying chemical cause. It smells like baking yeast. I don't know if this is a result of preparation or contamination, but I intend to find out. I can still drink it. It is NOT dump worthy. I'm drinking one right now as I write this.

My first attempt to ID the offending volatile chemicals will be to do solid phase microextraction (SPME).I just got some SPME equipment and am itching to try it out. Basically, SPME involves the adsorption of analytes onto a "wick" followed by desorption in the inlet port of a GC/MS (or HPLC). It is obviously more involved then that and the good folks at Supelco will gladly give you more info. As you may find out during the next few weeks, I will be on an SPME kick for a while. I already analyzed the volatile compounds of some hops and pine needles. Stay tuned....

Chemistry Education and Beer

Let's face it, beer brewing is a science and an art. But mostly a science as far as I am concerned. The more I learn about brewing science, the more interested I become. My goal is to convey the things I learn via this blog.

The Spring semester starts on Monday. This semester I am teaching General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Principles of Biochemistry (your typical light load). I would love to incorporate some brewing science into my Biochemistry course. From the enzyme activity on starch during a mash to the isomerization of alpha acids from hops during the boil, brewing IS Biochemistry.

However, since our campus is a "dry" campus (except during the faculty and staff Christmas party), the administration may frown on this idea. I don't blame them. Brewing beer in a class on a dry campus sends mixed messages. I have fermented alcohol using sugar and baking yeast in Organic chemistry to do a distillation lab, but the point of this is not to make something that can be consumed. One of the obvious and most important qualitative analyses that should be done with beer is tasting it. The point of brewing is to make something that tastes good and is enjoyable to consume.

I will relate a few brewing anecdotes when appropriate, but I won't be brewing in lab.

Maybe someday, I'll open a beer brewing institute in my home.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Busy brew day

OK, first homebrew related post. All day I have thought of things I should post. In my mind I came up with a list of 100 things to blog about. I think I will have plenty of material to keep this blog going for at least 3 weeks. OK, hopefully longer.

Today was a fairly busy day with my beer. I started the day with an oatmeal stout, a Fat Tire belgium ale clone and a Pilsner Urquell clone kit (from in primaries. The Pilsner was just brewed on New Years day (more on that some other time). In a secondary I had a Bavarian Helles (also a kit from The Bavarian was brewed on October 19th and sat in my garage until November 11th when it got too cold.

I bottled the Helles and transferred the stout and Fat Tire to secondaries. I just let the Pilsner bubble away.

I hate bottling. I hope someday to keg my beer (maybe when my bar is completed after my basement gets finished etc... That's another post). I've started using my dishwasher to sanitize my bottles. This works great. The dishwasher doesn't clean the bottles, since the water does not get squirted into them. So, they have to be cleaned before hand. As long as I rinse them out right after emptying them, cleaning them is easy. I use my bottle washer and give each bottle a 5 second squirt, put them in the dishwasher and start the machine and walk away for 80 minutes. The 'sanitize' cycle on the dishwasher does the trick, and it is a lot less labor intensive.

First post ever

Well, here I am... a blogger. Why? Well, everyone else is. Why not me? So here I am. Dipping my toes into the world of blogging.

After an extensive 4 minute search, I realized there were no blogs about Homebrew and Chemistry. And, the world just couldn't be without a blog dealing with Homebrew and Chemistry (BTW, "Homebrew" is the term that refers to brewing your own beer at home and "Chemistry" is.. well, Chemistry).

I have set up this blog to give me a chance to #1: Record my homebrew recipes and batches (I'm terrible at keeping records about my brews). #2: Talk about some of the Chemistry associated with brewing that I find interesting (There are professionals that do this. I'm not one of them). #3: practice my tpying. #4: Talk about anything I like. In reality, #4 may become a bigger factor as things go on. I'm not looking to change the world or influence public opinion or control a general election, I just want to write some things.

The following are a few examples of things I am considering posting about:

Not ending sentences with prepositions
The Pilsner Urquell clone I just brewed and am fermenting at 62 degrees
LASIK eye surgery
How much I hate bottling
Homebrew forums I like
What components I extracted from hops using SPME and GC/MS
How alpha acids in hops isomerize to beta acids during the boil. Can anyone say acyloin-like intermediate.
Why my Fat Tire Clone tastes like crap

And so on.....

I do make one solemn promise. One that everyone who blogs or uses the internet for any reason should make. If this site goes without a post for more than 2 weeks, I will delete it. I hate dead blogs.

Good day and enjoy