Thursday, November 29, 2007

A real inconvenient truth

So, of all of the human activities to blame on global warming, the Canadian government is pointing the finger at its beer drinking citizens and their beer fridges.

Thanks a lot for screwing up the planet you Canadian beer drinkers!!!!


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Perpetuated yeast

I racked my Spiced Winter Ale yesterday. It tasted pretty dang good. The gravity had only dropped to 1.022. So, my alcohol content may be a little lower than I was shooting (6% vs. 6.9%). Oh well, it was good. The spices were a bit strong but that should mellow in the secondary and then in the bottle.

I was pleased how it turned out because of the yeast I used. A month before I made this batch I stole some yeast (Wyeast 1056) from a yeast starter and capped it in a sanitized bottle. I stored this in my refrigerator for a month. When I was ready to use it again, I opened the bottle and made another starter from it. Fermentation took place and no weird flavors showed up. I'm pretty confident the yeast survived my manipulations and storage.

I plan on using this procedure regularly in the future to stretch my yeast a little further.

Friday, November 23, 2007

backup, backup, backup, backup......

A recent story written by Derek about 3.5 inch floppy disks and a dissertation brought back some memories for me. The fact that I am currently looking for an external hard drive to store my rapidly expanding digital information also stirred these memories. I am looking for a 500 GB drive which would be 2.5E5 times larger than the good old fashioned 3.5 inch floppy drive I stored my MS thesis on.

I was in grad school (for the first time) back in the mid-90s. I was doing work on organometallics (heavy on the organo, light on the metallics), specifically porphyrins. After a couple of years, I was offered a teaching position, and I opted for a MS and the pursuit of wealth in the world of academia.

The internet was still in its youth, but it was a rapidly growing toddler that was learning to run. Netscape was still good, and computers were becoming much more than glorified word processors.

I bought a Macintosh PowerBook 520c (the 'c' means "color"). I love that computer ("love" in the present tense. I still have this computer and use it occasionally). It was a workhorse when I wrote my thesis. I would often have 6-8 applications running at the same time, and the little thing only crashed once.

As I wrote my thesis, I realized my paranoia of losing my work was directly proportional to the thesis length. I became a compulsive saver. I would save everything I had on a 3.5 inch floppy drive. I started saving everything on just one disk. As my work got longer and longer, I started saving 2 copies. Then an event occurred that threw me deep into backup paranoia.

I was writing at home. I decided to have a beer while writing at my desk. It was a 22 oz microbrew and I had poured it into a tall glass (see where this is going?). I was typing away enjoy what I recall as bing a pale ale. I don't know what happened, but due to what was some sort of flailing arm movement I knocked the beer over.

Sudden panic. Beer every where. My bed was next to my desk and there was enough beer on my quilt so I threw that on the wood floor to sop up the beer that was cascading off of my desk. I quickly assessed the situation. Somehow, somehow, very little beer got on my computer. It had only splashed on the display and on a few keys. My stylewriter printer on the other hand got the worst of it. It would never recover. I cleaned up the mess, tried heroic efforts to resuscitate the printer, and apologized to my PowerBook for putting it in harms way.

That's also when I decided to increase the number of copies I backed up. It eventually became 10. I would literally spend about 30 minutes backing everything up each day. The floppy disks were dispersed everywhere to ensure the survival of at least one if a catastrophic beer spill of biblical proportions were to occur.

When I returned to grad school to finish my Ph.D., I followed a similar pattern, albeit with CDs. I was eventually burning 3-4 CDs daily.

Yes, I was paranoid.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Another pardon

As is the tradition, President Bush pardoned the White House Thanksgiving turkey today (actually, turkeys). This little tradition dates back to 1947. Every year since Truman was in the White House, the National Thanksgiving Turkey (yes, that is its official title) is presented to the president and he ceremoniously pardons it.

I'm sick of these bird being pardoned. It is time to send one of these to the White House dinner table. I'd love it if Bush said, "ah hell, let's cook this baby up. Dick, get yer gun!"

Bush still has one Thanksgiving left in office. I think he should be the first to not pardon the bird After all, he's had the balls to invade two countries in 5 years. It shouldn't be too hard for him to wack a bird. Besides, who is left that he could piss off.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone (even those not from the USA). Have a beer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

If I had a dollar....

...for every visitor I have had to this blog, I would have enough to buy the sweetest all-grain brewing system ever.

21100 and counting.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tannins and icky beer

Tannins are astringent, bitter tasting compounds. Chemically, tannins refer to a broad class of polyphenols. They are often differentiated from other polyphenols in that, tannins precipitate proteins. Ann Hagerman at Miami of Ohio University has a great pdf online that explains tannins much better than I could.

They are not desired in beer. However, they are found in the hulls of the grains whence comes the goodness that eventually becomes beer. During the mashing process, the starches get enzymatically broken down to maltose. However, if the mashing or sparging water is too hot, detrimental amount of tannins can be leached from the grains. It is well known that for most things, the solubility in water increases as the temperature of the water increases. So, this makes sense.

However, the pH of the mash can also affect the solubility of tannins. If the pH is too high (the "normal" pH of a mash is around 5.2) the solubility of tannins increases. This has to do with the presence of the phenolic functional group.

Shown is catechin, a common (and fairly simple) tannin found in a brew kettle near you [edit: The structure shown is missing one OH group. I'll fix it later].

As any sophomore organic chemistry student will tell you, the OH groups bonded to the aromatic rings (the group that puts the "phenol" in "polyphenol") are willing to lose their protons to a base. The pKa of phenol is about 10. I don't know what it is for catechin, but I'm sure it is in that vicinity.

As a result, if the pH of the mash get too high, more and more of the tannins will lose the proton. The result is charged, ionic compound which has a higher water solubility than the neutral species. As a result, the result of this result results in more tannins dissolved in the water.

So, what affects the pH of the water in the first place? You'll just have to wait and find out.

Winter Ale

With winter approaching (that son-of-a-bitch), I decided it is time brew a beer that makes the long cold Minnesota nights a bit shorter. I once again went to my brewing cupboard and took an inventory. With the help of The Beer Recipator, I crafted a recipe for a spiced Winter ale.

I've very proud of this batch because I took a lot of care crafting it, but I also paid a lot of attention to some specifics. For example, I actually took the time to calculate my mashing (partial) efficiency which turned out to be about 75%. I hope the extra care pays off.

Here's the details copied from the Recipator summary. I didn't include in the summary the spices I included. For the last 15 minutes of the boil I added 3 cinnamon sticks, 0.5 tsp nutmeg, 0.25 tsp ground cloves. During the last minute of boil I added one split vanilla bean. It smelled great.


Brewer: - Email: -
Beer: spice Style: Robust Porter
Type: Partial mash Size: 5 gallons
51 HCU (~22 SRM)
Bitterness: 31 IBU
OG: 1.067 FG: 1.014
Alcohol: 6.9% v/v (5.4% w/w)
Grain: 1 lb. 11 oz. American 2-row
1 lb. Wheat malt
.5 lb. American crystal 120L
11 oz. British crystal 50-60L
4 oz. British chocolate
Mash: 75% efficiency
Boil: minutes SG 1.112 3 gallons
5 lb. Light dry malt extract
Hops: 1 oz. Cluster (5.7% AA, 60 min.)
.5 oz. Kent Goldings (6.9% AA, 60 min.)
.25 oz. Chinook (12.2% AA, 60 min.)
1 oz. Cascade (6.9% AA, 15 min.)

The yeast I used was Wyeast 1056, American Ale. I brewed with this yeast about a month ago. I saved a bit from the starter and placed it in a sanitized beer bottle and capped it. I stored it in my fridge for almost a month. I made another yeast starter and rejuvenated the yeast. Hopefully it is still healthy enough to make good beer. We will see.


OK, I've been using Leopard for a few days now. My first impressions are that it is awesome. I've run into no compatibility issues thus far. I like the look which clearly Apple has focused on as much as function.

One big noticeable improvement is the speed. I'm using a PowerBook G4 (1.5 GHz with 768 MB RAM). By most standards, that is getting old. Leopard has made my machine run a lot faster and smoother.

The only issue I have noticed (and I'm not sure to what extent Leopard is to blame) is in syncing. When syncing my computer to a server, it doubled some of my files. One had a "-local" suffix and the other had a "-network" suffix. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

I still wish Apple would do something about Appletalk, but maybe they can't just dump it. I don't know. It's just an annoyance.

Is it worth the cost? Well, for me it didn't cost a thing. My employer covered that. Would I, personally, shell out the $130 to update? Maybe. The change from 10.4 to 10.5 is not too drastic. If I was still running 10.3 on an iBook, I would do it in a minute.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


During my first semester of grad school long ago, I took a Physical Organic class. It was a great class. The teacher was from Poland and spoke with a moderate accent, not thick enough to be indecipherable, but occasionally some words were totally different.

One day we were talking about diastereomers. Now, for the non-chemists out there, I'm not going to try to explain it. It would take more time that I want. For those of you who need refresher, Eliel defines diastereomers as: "Stereoisomers that are not related as mirror images. They usually differ in physical and chemical properties."

The correct (or at least most understood) pronunciation is: die'-ah-stair'-e-o-merz. OK, not the way Webster would have written it, but you get the point. Well, on day in class, my Polish prof pronounced it: dee-ah'-stur-oh'-murs (note the accent on the second syllable). Say it out loud. It sounds quite different than the "normal" way of saying it.

We were in class when this happened and it took a few minutes to figure out what he was saying. Yet, since we were familiar with diastereomers, we eventually figured it out.

However, this prof also taught Sophomore level Organic Chemistry. The students in that class had never heard of diastereomers before. As a result, the class of about 300 all learned to pronounce it as dee-ah'-stur-oh'-murs. It was hilarious to have a student come to the chemistry help center and ask for help on "dee-ah'-stur-oh'-murs" from the TA. I wonder how many of them still pronounce it wrong.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A preview

I hate to say it, but I've been busy lately. Too busy to blog (is that an appropriate use of the word 'blog'). Tonight I bottled my house ale (Metathesis Ale). I'm going to try to keep this one on hand at all times. I like it a lot.

While I haven't been blogging (seriously, can I use 'blogging' as a verb?), I've been running a lot of ideas through my mind that I want to write about. If you are interested, here are a few of the things you can expect to see on this blog before April:

1) Tannins and how they affect beer (Look out for the pKa).
2) Mac OS 10.5. I just got it loaded today (finally). I will give you my impressions.
3) ChemDraw 11 (a.k.a. Ultra (2008 version)) I'm trying a demo to see if I want to replace my 2005 version.
4) Harvesting yeast from a yeast starter and storing it for 2 weeks.
5) Brewing water chemistry
6) why I ALWAYS type 'chemistyr' instead of 'chemistry'
7) How people from Poland pronounce "diastereomers" funny (based on one experience).
8) The use of gelatin in a secondary to act as a clarifying agent.
9) The chemistry of paints and paint binders.

Now, I hopefully will get to these.

Monday, November 5, 2007

beer activities

I racked my Guinness clone to a secondary. It tastes great.

I cracked my first Carbon Black Oatmeal Stout. It is dark and pretty good. It's only been in the bottle for 6 days. That is WAY too early to open a bottle, but it is SO hard to wait. This should age quite nicely. Very rich and full bodied.

Friday, November 2, 2007

This tastes like burning

A couple of my students told me about this little "trick." Take a piece of Big Red gum and remove the wrapper. Lick the wrapper and place on your skin (shiny side out). The forehead works great, especially for the unsuspecting.
After a few minutes, the effect will be noticeable. A burning sensation is eventually accompanied by a bit of skin irritation. Try it. This is what my arm looked like after 5 minutes (the picture's not great, but you get the point):

Of course, there is chemistry at play here. The culprit is the same thing that gives Big Red (and other cinnamon-flavored gums) it's character... cinnamaldehyde.

I wonder if there is an MSDS for Big Red. If there was, I bet chewing it would not be acceptable.