Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This is why I love Minnesota.

It was 40°F at noon yesterday.
Right now, it is -10°F with wind chills in the -40°F range.
I love this state.

When I'm King of the World....

...asking the question, "boxers or briefs?" will be strictly forbidden. Why does every 3rd rate reporter who can't think of anything useful ask this question. Time to let this cliché die.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's your base bath recipe?

For all of those chemists who read this, what is your preferred recipe for a base bath?

Mine is: dump some KOH into some EtOH. Stir to dissolve. Use.

Not very precise.

What do you use?

[for the brewers who read this, don't worry. I'll have a question for you in a few days.]

When I'm King of the World....

...the term "hydrogen bonding" will not be used. This a very strong dipole-dipole interaction, not a "bond." Students often get confused about the difference between intermolecular forces (IMF) and bonds. Calling an IMF a "bond" when it isn't really a bond, just a very strong IMF, is confusing. I would outlaw this practice.

When I'm King of the World....

...calling two wins in a row by the hapless Timberwolves a "win streak" will not be allowed. Seriously, I'm happy for them, but that is NOT a win streak.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My own beer reviews

I've never reviewed my beers before. So, I thought I would do just that.

Beer #1 Guinness Clone.
Served at cellar temperature (56°F). Review: Good, really good.

Beer #2 Cream Ale

Review: Good. Will be better in 2 weeks.

Beer #3 Metathesis Pale Ale

Review: Good and good.

Beer #4 Spiced Ale

Review: Good and strong and good.

Clearly I'm no Michael Jackson. And my picture taking sucks. Oh well, at least my beer is...well...good!!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On the basic nature of Organic Chemistry

During the first day of my Sophomore Organic Chemistry class (the second semester portion) I waxed philosophical. We were reviewing first semester stuff just to get everybody's brain (including mine) back into gear.

Occasionally, I like to put this class into some sort of context for my students. Organic Chemistry at this level can be bewildering. Organic Chemistry can be bewildering at ANY level, but I've noticed that at about two-thirds of the way through the first year, students start to get really weighed down by the subject.

This course is the typical 2nd year Organic Chemistry course. It covers all of the basics, from nomenclature to physical organic to reactions etc.... We cover a ton of material but only cover the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

I try to put this course into context using an analogy. Doing Organic Chemistry is like learning to write.

To learn to write, one must learn about all of the grammatical pieces and what purpose they serve (i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions etc...).

Students first learn what a noun is and how a verb makes it "do" something. The boy walked.

After mastering that, the student can add prepositional phrases. The boy walked into the store.

Eventually, through the employment of many different grammatical elements, the simple sentence can convey a great deal of information. The young boy slowly walked into the pet store and bought a dozen goldfish.

With the proper practice, this sentence can be combined with others to create a paragraph. Eventually, a number of paragraphs can be combined to form a story. The quality of the story can certainly vary, and writing a good story requires great skill.

This process is the same in organic chemistry. Right now, I am teaching my students how to use the nouns and verbs of organic chemistry. Eventually we will be able to use prepositional phrases. However, even though we cover a ton of material in this class, we will not get beyond that stage.

That is unfortunate (albeit, necessary). In my Advanced Organic Chemistry course we finally get to "read" a story: a total synthesis. Towards the end of that class, they learn to write their own paragraphs.

It is usually in grad school where they will get the chance to write a story (i.e. a total synthesis) on their own (or at least contribute significantly to one).

There is great beauty in organic chemistry. Sadly, it is hard to see during the early days of ones education. I never truly appreciated organic chemistry until Advanced Organic Chemistry during my senior year. There we read the "stories" and I was greatly impressed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bloggers block

I'm having bloggers block. I can't think of anything to write about. Well, actually I can, but I can't think of anything that doesn't have to do with preparing for second semester. Basically, I'm totally preoccupied with class prep, lab prep and the like.

I think I'll drink some beer. Maybe I'll take picture. Yeah, people like pictures. Pictures are easy.

Stay tuned....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When I'm King of the World....

... it will be illegal for pubs and bars to serve 10 oz glasses of beers [1] even if used with a pitcher. The use of 10 oz beer glasses in private homes will also be greatly discouraged.

[1] microbrew "flights" and barleywine are exempt.

When I'm King of the World....

...anyone who burns popcorn in the break room microwave will be punished by being forced to wear underwear soaked in a cinnamaldehyde solution.
Zero tolerance!!!!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Semester about to begin

The second semester is set to begin on Monday. I am slowly getting ready. My biggest chore right now is cleaning labs. What a pain.

This semester I am teaching General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry. Light load, eh? I'm also snowed under with administrative work including leading the preparations for an accreditation review. I wish I was back in grad school. Days were shorter then. Seriously... well, almost seriously.

I still find time to brew. I bottled my Scottish Ale tonight and will brew a Pilsner Urquell clone tomorrow. The pilsner should lager at low temperatures. Since I can't achieve those temperatures without a fridge, I'm going to lager in my basement (62°F). It won't be perfect, but I've done it before and I drank all of that beer. It will still be great.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy Birthday to my blog and tips to start homebrewing

It's been exactly one year since I sat down on a quiet and cold January day and started this silly blog. I'm pretty proud of myself for keeping it going for a whole year. So far, so good. I plan on continuing this blog.

The combination of Homebrewing and Chemistry is a tad eclectic, but I think I've found a good balance and combination of the two. I'd like to have more meaningful chemistry, but that would require greater effort. Besides, other people do this much better than I can (see my blog roll).

I was trying to think of what to write about for my 1 year anniversary. I first thought of doing a recap of my best posts. Since I don't really have many any great posts I decided to go with plan B.

I've been personally responsible in one way or another for helping almost a dozen friends start brewing beer (or wine). So, I thought I'd encourage the reader(s)[1] of this blog to start brewing beer at home. Now, I realize some of you have no interest in doing this and some of you already do. The following advice is not necessarily for you (feel free to read on, however). The following advice is for the person who the person who says, "I love beer and I would love to make my own. I just haven't found the time to learn how."

Here is my advice:

1) Homebrewing is a hobby that grows strongly from passion, just like most hobbies. Don't start unless you or someone you know loves beer. Each 5 gallon batch makes about 2 cases of beer. That's a lot of beer. If you don't like to drink beer, this is not the hobby for you. If you have friends who like to drink good beer you can easily get them to drink some.

2) You need supplies. You must first locate a homebrew supply store. If you live in a large metropolitan area, chances are good that you have one in the area. Hobby shops often carry brewing supplies, but you are much better off going to a store that is dedicated to homebrewing. The staff is an indispensable source of information, since most of them work there because they brew too. In addition, the selection is wider and fresher. Remember, you are making a food product. Bad ingredients make bad beer; good ingredients make good beer. If you do not have a store nearby (such is the case for me), there are a lot of online options. I have two favorites: Northern Brewer and Midwest Brewing. Both of these places will ship everywhere. For me the cost of shipping is usually less then the cost of gas for the 160 mile drive.

3) The best way to start from scratch is to get a starter kit. These kits are available at most homebrew supply stores and they include all the equipment you need to get started. Depending on your level of commitment to the hobby (which is sometimes hard to gauge early on) you may want to choose the level of kit carefully. If I were to do it all over again, I would start with a more advanced kit. Specifically, I would have chosen one that included kegging equipment.

4) Buy a book on homebrewing. I suggest The Joy of Homebrewing and How to Brew. The How to Brew book is also available online. That's the cheapest way to learn about brewing.

5) Use a prepackaged ingredient kit for you first batch. Most supply stores sell kits that contain all of the ingredients you need for a 5 gallon batch AND directions on how to make the beer. These kits are a great way to learn about the different ingredients that go into different styles. Depending on the type of beer you like, the best style to start with is a pale ale. These tend to be more forgiving and the yeast ferments nicely at room temperature. Lager beers require colder temperatures to get the best results. This often requires more equipment (i.e. a dedicated refrigerator with temp controller).

6) Set aside enough time for your first batches. I can do an extract batch in 2 hours; A partial mash in 4 hours. For your first batch, you may need about 4 hours.

7) Make sure you room for a fermenter. Occasionally, fermentations can "blow off" (i.e. bubble out of the airlock). This isn't a problem unless you have your fermenter sitting on the carpet in your living room. Place your fermenter on a floor that can get wet without concern.

8) 5 gallons of beer weighs a lot. Carrying 5 gallons of sugary, sticky wort is a tricky task. A dropped carboy or bucket can translate into a whole lot of trouble.

9) "Relax. Don't worry. Have a Homebrew." This is the mantra of Charles Papazian (homebrew guru), and it is a good one. Don't worry about being perfect. Enjoy the hobby. Even if your beer isn't perfect, it will still be very good beer. Don't worry about screwing up. It's hard to do. Eventually, you will hone your skills.

10) Take your sanitation very seriously. #9 if important, but do not relax when it comes to sanitation. The easiest way you can ruin a batch of beer is if you don't sanitize whatever the beer touches.

Well, that's enough for now. I hope it helps. Thanks for reading.

[1] I stole this joke from Matt.[2]

[2] I learned this footnoting technique from Ψ*Ψ.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Hop crisis. This time it's personal.

I drove to one of my favorite homebrew supply stores today. Since I have to drive a total of 160 miles to get these supplies, I usually purchase enough supplies for 3-4 batches. Today, I was significantly hindered by the lack of hops.

My supply store is great. They ship all over the place. They are always well stocked, but their hop supply is currently limited. They are well supplied with Kent Goldings, Target and Amarillo. However, they are totally out of Cascade, Halltertau, Fuggles, Chinook, and Saaz. I had to do a lot of modifying of my recipes. They won't be hopped exactly as I would like, but necessity is the mother of invention... or so they say. They should still turn out, and who knows maybe they will be better.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Hoppy New Year?

Happy New Year everyone. Hopefully, it will be a Hoppy New Year for all of the homebrewers out there.

I brewed a modified version of my Metathesis Pale Ale on the 30th. I'll post the recipe sometime. I had to modify the hops I use for two reasons. First, I had some in the freezer that needed to be used, but more importantly, the world-wide hop shortage is going to affect the availability of Cascade hops (and others). Cascade hops are critical for many of my beers, but especially so for my Metathesis Pale Ale. I love Cascade hops, and I know I am not alone in this love affair.

I bought a pound of Cascade hops about 2 months ago. I still have about half a pound left. If cascade hops are going to become as rare as some believe in 2008, my half pound of hops is like a little gold mine. My Metathesis Pale Ale recipe calls for 4 ounces of Cascade hops. That's a lot. My solution was to use some Yakima Magnum for bittering. Magnum hops have a very high alpha acid content, so a little goes a long ways. I combined the Magnum hops with some Centennial hops which will provide some Cascade-like flavor. I will dry hop with Cascade in a week.