Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm not dead yet!!!

Just to prove I have not dropped off of the face of the earth, here is a little post. During the weekend I destroyed a significant number of increasingly valuable hydrocarbons while I drove the family to the southern-most Dakota. I've been a bit detained by that incident.

Ψ*Ψ at CBC[1] recently[2] posted about poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG). This reminded me of the many ways I have use PEG in my life. From my Ph.D. research to eye-drops to laxatives and more. My next post[3] will detail all of the wonderful things PEG has done for me.

Until then, enjoy this:

"Dog's nuts!"

[1] That's Carbon-Based Curiosities for those of you just crawling out from under a rock
[2] OK, 'recently' is relative. It's been a while, but I've been busy.
[3] maybe

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My newest version of beer

What I really love about brewing is the independence on has over the ingredients in a batch. Sure, if I was to try to make a certain style, there are specific guidelines that I must meet.

However, I'm not brewing beer to be judged within the confines of a category (maybe someday, but not today). My only constraints are what ingredients I have in my Sterilite storage bin.

Today I brewed using two criteria:

1) I could only use what I had on hand
2) I had to use ALL of the specific ingredient I had on hand (except for my Cascade hops. I have about .75 pounds)

My biggest problem was the hops I had available. I had 0.4 oz of Target (10.0% AA), 0.55 oz Tettnang (4.3% AA) and a copious amount of Cascade hops (5.8% AA) I wanted to hit a bitterness of 40±5 IBU. So, I used a number of IBU calculators on the internet, but they all gave conflicting values. I need to look into this more deeply and understand my IBUs better.

Here is my recipe (I'm not sure what I made, but I bet it will be better than Bud Light):

4 oz flaked barley
8 oz Munich malt
8 oz Carapils
14 oz Crystal Malt (50-60°L)
3 lb Amber DME
3 lb Light DME
0.4 oz Target hop pellets (bittering, 60 minutes)
0.25 oz Cascade hop pellets (bittering, 60 minutes)
0.44 Tettnang hop pellets (aroma, 15 minutes)
0.5 oz Cascade hop pellets (aroma, 2 minutes)
Safale US-56 dry yeast

The barley, munich, carapils and crystal malt were mashed at 150°F for 60 minutes in 2.5 quarts of water. The liquid was strained through a plastic colander lined with a muslin bag. The grains were sparged with 1 gallon of water at 170°F. To the liquid the DME was added. The volume was increased to 3 gallons. The wort was brought to a boil and the Target and Cascade hops were added. With 15 minutes left, the Tettnang hops were added and finally the Cascade was added with 2 minutes left. The wort was cooled and diluted to 5 gallons. The dry yeast was added directly.

Only time will tell what I have made and if it is good.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Condition critical

I bottled my Experimental Ale #2 tonight (FG 1.018). It tasted quite good. A bit too bitter right now, but that should mellow out over time.

With this beer in the bottle, I find myself in a terrible situation. I have NO beer in any carboy. My beer pipeline is dry. I may try to scrounge up some ingredients for another experimental beer tomorrow, but I'm not sure if I have what I need.

The lack of brewing has been a result of being busy and not having the ingredients I want. I could order them, but I have grand plans and I'm afraid the shipping charges may be too high. I am going to get ingredients for 3-4 batches. In addition, I am going to buy dry malt extract (DME) in bulk. A 55 lb bag costs about $135. Since I use about 6 pounds in each batch, this will supply 9 batches. In addition to that, I plan on trying my hand at partial mash brewing. This requires more grains (and less DME so my 55 lbs will last longer).

The bottom line is, it will be cheaper for me to drive to the supply store instead of having it shipped. I just need to find the time to do so.

I also hope to get back to blogging about some brewing chemistry things as well.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Beer and Celiacs

Yesterday, my family and I took part in the 6th Annual International Walk for Celiac Disease. My niece has Celiac disease and this walk is a great way to support her and help raise funds to support research of the disease. Most of the funds raised go to the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.

Very briefly, Celiac disease is autoimmune disorder that is caused by the ingestion of gluten. Gluten is made up of a number of proteins, but the main player seems to be gliadin. The main source of gluten is from wheat, but there are similar proteins found in rye and barley (more on this later).

There is no cure for the disease, but it can be treated with a gluten-free diet. That's the good news. The bad news is that it takes a lot of effort to avoid gluten. Anything made from wheat is out, and a lot of things are made from wheat. While it is tough, with a bit of education and training, people with Celiac disease can live completely normal lives.

The annual Celiac walk is quite the event. Over 1000 people show up, many of whom have Celiacs, but I would bet most do not but are there to support family members who have it. At the Minneapolis event, Rich Gannon (2002 NFL MVP) is Honorary Host. There are tons of food vendors giving away free samples of gluten-free foods. There are door prizes, raffles and then of course, the 5K walk. It is a lot of fun.

So, what does this have to do with beer? Well, beer is made from barley. For a person with Celiacs, that means barley beer is off the menu. Even a small amount of gluten can cause significant issues. The good news is that there is an alternative to beer made from barley. The alternative is sorghum.

Gluten-free beer can be made from sorghum. Beer made from sorghum is common in Africa where sorghum is a common crop, but until recently, beer made from sorghum has been rare. In addition, gluten-free beer made exclusively from sorghum has been very rare.

At the Celiacs walk yesterday, a vendor was supplying samples of Redbridge beer. Redbridge is made by Anheuser-Busch. I tried a few samples. My first impression was that it was not too bad. It had a decent flavor, but it lacked a malty body (it is from AB after all). It was also lacking in hoppiness, but that is normal for the macrobrews. I'm going to see if I can find some in my area. I need more that 2 ounces to get a good feel for it.

Homebrewing gluten-free beer
is challenging, but entirely possible. It carries with it some unique challenges, but so did "normal" homebrewing back in the early days. I don't brew gluten-free beer, so I have no insights to give (sorry to anyone who googled "gluten-free beer" and got this blog).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fat Tire Clone #3 bottled

I finally got my Fat Tire Clone #3 in bottles. It tasted much better than my first two attempts. I hope it conditions well. I will know in about 2 weeks.

I made a "discovery" of sorts: a 22 oz bottle holds more than a 12 oz bottle, and the larger volume means fewer bottles. OK, I know. It's nothing an average moron couldn't have figured out, but I never considered using larger bottles.

Well, now I do. I do this for two reasons.

#1 22 ounces is larger than 12 ounces and there are fewer bottles to fill.
#2 One method to acquire 22 oz bottles is to drink really good beer. There are a lot of good craft beers that are sold in 22 oz sizes. One brand is Rogue Beer. They make some very good beer and in a lot of styles. Emptying their 22 oz bottles is a rather satisfying experience (especially the Younger's Special Bitter) The only problem with using their bottles is the label is printed directly onto the bottle. I'm going to see what a little dichloromethane does to it. If the DCM doesn't take it off, then it wasn't meant to be removed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Long time, no post.

Wow, it has been a while since I posted. Once the semester ended, I got distracted with graduations and family matters. It was all good, but not conducive for thoughtful posting.

In lieu of a thoughtful post I am going to post about lab reports. My last post elicited a significant amount of discussion on lab reports (hey, for this blog, 9 comments is a significant amount of discussion).

Sorry I'm a little slow getting to this, but better late than never.

I teach three classes (at least last semester). General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and General Biochemistry. I have no TAs. I am the lab instructor and stockroom person. In addition to numerous faculty committees and divisional responsibilities, I have very little free time. Such is the nature of teaching at a small, private liberal arts college.

As a result, I am regularly swamped with grading.

In my General Chemistry class, every lab requires a brief lab report. I use CER labs, not because I think they are so great, but because they make things easier for me. I really wish I could do something different, but not until I have less on my plate.

In my Organic class, I do not require lab reports. In lieu of lab reports, my students must keep a well organized lab notebook. They are graded in a number of different ways. First, I give notebook quizzes. Every month or so, they have to complete a quiz using only their lab notebook. This is all designed to make sure they are recording things they should be (i.e. reactions, melting points, observations etc...) A second way is to require them (usually at the end of a semester) to repeat an experiment using only their lab notebook. The ones who keep good notebooks usually do quite well. They are also graded on technique and safety. I never grade on yield

In my Biochemistry lab, I require (usually) two formal written lab reports during the semester. The report is on a lab or sequence of labs they did during the semester.

There is great value in learning how to write a lab report, but I don't have enough time to fully grade them. As a result, I let that slide a bit.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Done and done

All of my grades are in. I am done.

Last night, I didn't work on school-related things after I got my girls to bed for the first time since September.

Instead, I indulged (as is my custom at this time of year):

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


UPDATE: General Chemistry is completely done and I have submitted grades. Now, I'm deep in Organic and will soon move to Biochemistry.

Dear World,

Grading final exams and papers sucks.



P.S. Seriously, it really, really sucks. At least I'm not this cat:

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Liquid nitrogen ice cream

As a special treat for my General Chemistry students who had to put up with me 5 days a week plus a weekly lab for a full school year, I made liquid nitrogen ice cream for them on Friday.

I love doing this demo because it tastes so good.

Here is my recipe:

2 cups half and half
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup sugar
a healthy splash of vanilla

The ingredients are mixed in a plastic bowl with a wooden spoon. Liquid nitrogen is added in small amounts until the entire mixture assumes a butter-like consistence. I serve it in 3 oz cups.

It tastes great and is loaded with fat. The creams are not light by any means. I've also made a chocolate version, but that is just too rich.

There is also the visually appealing part of making the ice cream.

Students ask a lot of questions about liquid nitrogen. Like: "where can I buy it?" and "does it hurt if it touches you?"

I like to tell the story of when I was reinstalling a cold trap full of liquid N2 on a schlenk line cold finger. Some liquid N2 boiled over and landed in the palm of my hand, I had the choice of dropping the dewar flask or sucking up the pain and finish tightening the clamp. I chose the later and ended up with a nice spot of frost bite on my palm.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Torturing gummi bears and molten iron

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester. I'm running out of steam. The tank is on "E." So, instead of trying to cram a few more things into the semester, I decided to do a couple of visually stimulating demos for my General Chemistry class.

Since the weather is finally nice, I did a couple of demos that are best done outdoors. Both are redox reactions.

The first one I did was the reaction of molten potassium chlorate and gummi bears. The set up is simple. In a large test tube, about 5 grams of potassium chlorate is melted with a propane torch. A gummi bear is dropped into the test tube and the demonstrator runs away. The sugar in the gummi bears get oxidized quite rapidly and dramatically. Colored flames are typical.

The second demo I did is easily my favorite demo of all time: the thermite reaction. Here is the procedure I typically use: 100 grams of aluminum powder mixed with 350 grams of iron (III) oxide. This is the thermite mixture.

This reaction has a high activation energy. To get the reaction going, some people use an ignited magnesium ribbon as a fuse. I prefer to use glycerol and potassium permanganate. I like the KMnO4 because it adds another oxidation reaction to the mix that doesn't involve elemental oxygen. The drawback is that it take a while to get going, and sometimes the permanganate/glycerol reaction doesn't provide enough heat to get the thermite going.

That's what happened today. I poured the thermite mixture into a flower pot with a paper towel blocking the hole. I made a depression in the thermite and filled it with
KMnO4 and poured glycerol on top of it. Then we waited.... and waited... and waited. Finally, after about 2 minutes the glycerol and KMnO4 reacted, but the thermite didn't go. I added more glycerol and KMnO4. Still nothing.

My students were disappointed and ready to leave, when I had a flash of brilliance (or stupidity). I decided to add some potassium chlorate (from the gummi bear demo) to the top. There was plenty of glycerol left over. Nothing happened. So I heated it very briefly with the propane torch... That is all it took!!!

The thermite reaction took off like crazy. It was great. The molten iron came out of the bottom and landed right on top of the dandelion I was aiming at. Sparks were flying every where. My students were most impressed.

From now on I will use potassium chlorate to initiate the reaction.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Experimental Ale #2

The first time I brewed my experimental ale, I was very pleased. It turned out being one of my best brews ever. I decided to repeat it tonight using what I had on hand.

The recipe is as follows:

2 oz chocolate malt
6 oz roasted barley
1 lb crystal malt (50/60)
3 lb Amber DME
3 lb Dark DME
4 oz Pale DME
0.5 oz Chinook pellet hops (12.0%) Bittering
0.5 oz Kent Goldings (6.9%) Bittering
0.5 oz Willamette (4.6%) Bittering
0.5 oz Kent Goldings (6.9%) Flavor
1.0 oz Cascade (6.4%) aroma
Safale US-56 dry yeast

I will admit, this is an eclectic mix of ingredients, but I needed to get rid of some of this stuff. I cleaned the hops out of my freezer. The dark DME I bought from a local hobby shop that was going out of business. The only ingredient I purchased especially for this batch was the amber DME.

I will provide an update in a few weeks.