Saturday, July 28, 2007

I'm no Cal Ripken or Ernie Tyler!

I am proud of the fact that I have not missed a day of school or work due to illness or injury since 5th grade (and that may have been questionable).

However, I am no Cal Ripken Jr.. Ripken is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for good reason. He played in 2,632 consecutive baseball games, and he was a great player.

However, Ripken is no Ernie Tyler. Ernie worked as an umpire attendant for the Baltimore Orioles for 3,769 consecutive games. Not bad. He is missing his first games ever to attend Ripkens induction into the Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rack 'em up

I had a busy beer weekend that was long overdue. I bottled my ESB and transfered the three other batches to secondaries.

That took a lot of busy work.

By bottling my ESB I had an empty carboy (remember my beer lineup). I borrowed a friends 5-gallon carboy which I used to hold my sanitizing solution so I could use it for all three carboys.

The process went something like this: I emptied the ESB carboy, cleaned it and added the sanitizing solution. After a bit of a soak, I transfered the sanitation solution to the borrowed carboy and racked the next beer to the freshly sanitized carboy. I repeated this process two more times.

I used Star-San as my sanitizing solution. According to the MSDS, Star-San is 50% phosphoric acid (H3PO4), 15% dodecylbenzene sulfonic acid (see below) and 10% isopropyl alcohol (the remainder is a secret, though the majority is probably water).

I presume the phosphoric acid and IPA kill anything living in my carboy and the dodecylbenzene sulfonic acid acts as a detergent.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I just signed in and my site meter was at 11111. That was weird.

That converts to 31 in the decimal system, but telling you that would flag me as a nerd.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why I was able to become a chemist

Paul at one of the premiere chemistry blogs just wrote a post on why he became a chemist. This got me to thinking, "why did I become a chemist?" Well, that got me to thinking about not why I became a chemist, but why was I able to become a chemist.

Sure, having a brain helps. Having parents who encourage you to read instead of watch TV really helps[1]. Having parents who encourage you in general to study and learn really helps.

I always had a natural interest in science. I was amazed at how things worked, natural and man-made. By the third grade I was determined to become a neonatal surgeon. Obscure choice for an 8-year old? Yes, but true nonetheless. I would wear my pajamas backwards because they looked like scrubs. I never changed my mind until I was lured away in college by the mistress that is "Chemistry."

Yes, I was one of those pre-meds we in academia all really love to love[2]. I was slowly lured away by chemistry, but the final nail in that coffin was when I took Advanced Organic Chemistry during J-term. Brutal and hardcore, but I loved it.

But, how did I get to that point? Well, I was prepared very well. Here are a few of the most important individuals in my academic training that made it possible for me to become a chemist.

Mr. Willems in high school. I had him for Biology, Chemistry and Physics. He did a lot with a limited budget. He was very well organized and orderly. He didn't just teach us facts and trivia. So much of today's HS curriculum deals with learning about facts and trivia[3]. Mr. Willems taught us to think through problems using basic principles. This is a skill that has helped me greatly. Of course, there are some facts that must be memorized. One of the most valuable things he forced us to memorize in Chemistry was the names and formulas of the common polyatomic ions. This proved to be incredibly valuable later in my college career.

Mr. Bolda in high school. I had Mr. Bolda for most of my HS math. He was also my track coach. He was your prototypical nerd that many HS students tend not to embrace, but he was a very good teacher. One that, despite his mannerisms, any reasonable student would respect[4]. I did respect him. This was in the days before every HS in the world offered AP calculus. What Mr. Bolda did offer was a solid foundation in trigonometry and problem solving. I still use the problem solving skills he taught us in HS. I got to college with the skills need to breeze through most of a math minor.

Mrs. Kjeer in college. Staying with the math theme, I had Mrs. Kjeer for almost all of my college math (calculus I and II, differential equations, multivariable calc...). It was my very first day of college, 8AM class. We walked into our classroom and were met by this young and attractive calculus teacher who seemed to be hopped up on too much caffeine. This was NOT what we were expecting. When we got into the class, we learned quickly she knew what she was talking about and she wasn't hopped up on an alkaloid. She loved what she was doing. This coupled with uncompromising standards, an infectious excitement for calculus and the ability to back up what she said inspired us. I took as much math from her as I could. This helped me in ways I don't even realize.

Mrs. Weberg in college. Finally, I get to an actual chemistry professor. Mrs. Weberg inspired many students to become chemists, and provided the tools to do so. I had her for General and Organic. Mrs. Weberg was a great teacher. She knew what she was talking about and knew how to get students to learn. However, most importantly, she was like a mother to so many students. She was a very nurturing person and it wasn't always in the lovey dovey way. She was a mother after all, and she knew that every now and then, the best way to motivate a student is to kick them in the butt. She was stern when she had to be and compassionate when she had to be. We learned as much about life as we did about Chemistry. What she did was create a situation with clear standards and the motivation to reach those standards.

There are others to be sure, but these are four of the more important ones for me.

In retrospect, all of these individuals had some common traits. They loved what they did. They had high and uncompromising standards. They provided as much support as a student may need or request. They realized there is life outside of the classroom.

I try to model how I teach and interact with my students around what these individuals did. I usually fall far short of what they did, but I try.

They are why I was able to become a chemist.

[1] Don't get me wrong, I watched a lot of Transformers and He-Man back in the day...
[2] Some of the words in this sentence are inaccurate.
[3] Read your states expected education outcomes.
[4] Of course, not all HS students tend to be reasonable in this regard. Mr. Bolda eventually quite teaching. I do not know where he is now.

Keeping beer cold.... A science project

There are a lot of ways to keep beer cold. But, what is the best?

Check this out to find out. I'm most impressed that they used PBR. It won a blue ribbon once!!!!

It turns out, a beer cozy made out of Rice Krispie bar is the best.

Don't ever tell me the internet isn't full of useful stuff.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My partial mashing method

For those of you interested, the following is my partial mash method. Feel free to critique. I went all-in on this technique by brewing 4 batches with this technique before ever tasting the results. I'm not worried. I'm sure the beer will be quite drinkable.

About 3 pounds of grains (pale malt, 2-row malt and/or others) are added to about 1.5 gallons of water at 164° F. The goal is to mash at 152° F for about 90 minutes. To maintain the temperature, I place my nearly full kettle with lid into a larger kettle and fill the larger kettle with water at 152° F. This larger kettle is meant to act as an insulator. It works pretty good. I usually need to heat the apparatus once during the 90 minutes to maintain the 152° F temperature.

After the mash, it is time to sparge (filter and rinse). I filter the grains by using a plastic colander lined with a muslin bag. See the following (the Michelob Golden Light can is there because that's what I was drinking around the 4th of July):

I use about 2 gallons of water at 168° F to sparge the grains. I slowly pour the hot water over the grains about 300 mL at a time.

This method seems to work well. I get to a reasonable original gravity. I have not calculated how efficient this method is. I need to first see if it makes good beer or not.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm back

I'm back. We survived a week of camping in the northernmost parts of Minnesota.

Time for reality to take over. I spent an entire week without using my computer once. That was nice.

I will post a few details about the trip later. Specifically, I want to sing the praises of DEET (Meta-N,N-diethyl toluamide).

Monday, July 9, 2007

Vacation time!!!!

Posting will be slow around here for a while. I am off on vacation with the family.

Hopefully, it won't end like:

Back in a week...

Friday, July 6, 2007

Brewing chemistry: Part 3- Mashing: Amylase

Once the barley has been malted and roasted, the grain is full of starch and enzymes. The grains are then dried and roasted. At his point, it is critical that the amylase enzymes not be denatured. Denaturation is any process that renders enzymes inactive. Heating (i.e. cooking) will denature proteins (enzymes are proteins). Roasting the barley too hot could destroy the critical enzymes. But, fear not, the folks who do the roasting know exactly what they are doing.

When the barley is roasted it is ready to be mashed. For extract brewers, this is something that isn't done. For all-grain brewers, mashing is a critical process. A screw up here and the whole batch could be ruined. Mashing essentially breaks up the starch into fermentable sugars. No sugar, no beer.

As I have mentioned before, I am now doing partial mashes (I'll post later about my method). In fact, all four batches featured recently were partial mash batches.

There are a lot of things that happen during a mash. I will focus on the action of amylase in the context of doing a partial mash.

During mashing, malted barley is heated in water. For partial mashing about 1 liter of water is used per pound of grain. The temperature control is critical since the amylase activity is dependent on temperature.

There are two main amylase enzymes at work. The enzymes are formed during the malting process thanks to the action of gibberillic acid. The two enzymes are alpha-amylase and beta-amylase.

They both break glycosidic bonds between the glucose molecules in starch. However, alpha-amylase does so randomly and beta-amylase starts at the end of the starch chain (the non-reducing end) and chops off two glucoses (maltose) at a time. The optimum temperature for alpha-amylase activity is around 158° F and that for beta-amylase is around 145° F. In all grain brewing temperature control is absolutely critical since the amylase activities must be balanced out. In partial mashing a temperature compromise is reached. At 152-154° F the activities of both enzymes are good enough to result in decent conversion.

The goal is to not convert all of the starch into glucose or maltose. Unless you are trying to brew a very dry beer with very low residual carbohydrate levels (i.e. T.A.L.L.). If beta-amylase activity is allowed to dominate, the result is a highly fermentable wort and a dry beer.

A great description of partial mashing is available on the BYO website

Thursday, July 5, 2007

10,000 page views!!!!

OK, probably 85% of them are by me, but this simple little blog has just been viewed 10,000 times. Not bad for a blog that doesn't really say anything. Of course it is about beer.

Finally, my pipeline is full

With the end of semester craziness and beginning of summer craziness, my beer pipeline nearly dried up. I recently remedied this.

Behold, my brewing beer:

From left to right: bitter, pale ale, India pale ale, and honey wheat.

Another angle:

The bitter is in the secondary and the others are in their primaries.