Monday, March 31, 2008

Taxes and thermodynamics

It's been over a week since I posted last. I've been busy.

I spent most of my time tonight getting ready to get my taxes done. I figured 15 days before the deadline is a good time to start.

I used to do my taxes by myself. That got to be a real pain. I finally decided to pay someone to do it, and I will NEVER do my taxes by myself again. The cost is completely worth it.

I also spent my night prepping for a thermodynamics lecture in General Chemistry. I hope to talk intelligently about what free energy really is. ∆G = ∆H – T∆S. Am I a nerd if I think that equation is sexy? Probably, but the things that are implied by that simple equation make my tummy tickle.... Yup, it's worse than I thought. I am a major nerd. Oh well, I think my students are getting used to me. They actually laughed in class today when I tried to use "The Force" to pick up a piece of chalk. They thought that was funny, but I was serious... and disappointed when The Force failed me.

If you haven't noticed, I only posted this post because I feel bad for not posting something for over 7 days. There is nothing of value in this post.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This isn't what it looks like...

Dry malt extract (DME) is the foundation upon which extract brews are built. I do partial mashes which means some of my fermentable sugars come directly from grains and others come from DME. In a future post, I will explain how DME is made and what it is made of. Until then, let me tell you about saving money.

DME is expensive (as brewing ingredients go). Each pound is about 4-5$US. Each batch of extract beer requires about 6 pounds of DME. That is about 30$US and the major cost of a batch.

To reduce costs (and improve the beer quality) I do partial mashes. The other way to cut costs is to buy DME in bulk. I recently purchased 55 pounds of DME from my supplier. The cost is 140$US for 55 pounds. That will save me around 100$US when it is used up ($2 a pound!!).

I did this once before. It comes double bagged in a box. The first time, I just left it as it. I would open the box, take what I needed and seal the bags up again. Since the sugar is highly hygroscopic, the absorption of water is a potential problem. This could lead to degradation (i.e. rotting) of the DME. I put a nylon bag full of Drierite to keep it dry. It seemed to work.

This time, I decided to repackage the DME into 3 pound bags. This will make it more convenient to use when I need it. A batch of beer often requires 3 pounds of DME. To do this, I did the following:

Here is the box. The picture is a bit "cloudy" because the camera was in the van and still cold when I brought it into the humid house. I bought 55 pounds of Muntons extra light dry malt extract.
One bag has been opened. Notice the dishtowels covering the floor. DME is a fine powder and will fly everywhere. It is sticky and makes a good mess. The towels are meant to minimize the mess.
Here the inner bag has been opened to expose the future beer.
I scoop out DME into a tared picture and weigh out 3 pounds.
To get the DME into a bag I do the following. I place a 1 gallon freezer bag over the pitcher and invert it. Slowly (to avoid a plume of DME) I pull the pitcher out, leaving the DME in the bag. I push out as much air as I can from the bag and seal it.
This is the finished product. Only 17 more to go. Yes, this looks like a bag of something from Columbia. I can assure you, it is not.
Here are the filled bags. One of them leaked and had to be replaced.
During the process, the DME does absorb moisture and stick to anything. This makes things a bit messy.
Here are the containers I used.
The good news is that I was brewing beer and had a place to rinse them off. I dipped them into the brew kettle. The stuck DME was added to a certain K├Âlsch I was brewing.
The gallon bags were placed back into the box and bags and sealed up. There will wait in my cool basement until needed.
I don't know if this is the best way to store DME. A vacuum sealer would be great, but I don't have one. I'll let you know if it doesn't work.

While it may look like you are dividing something up with the intent to distribute, buying DME in bulk is a great way to save money. Unless of course you have to pay the shipping.

After dividing up the DME, I had to mop the floor to remove any sticky residue. I consulted my wife for directions on how to use a mop. Apparently, the motion used to operate a mop is the same as that used to operate a vacuum cleaner. Hmm, I learned something.

I just can't resist... sorry

for those of you who don't understand, sorry. This day (and chance for a lame chemistry joke) only comes once a year.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A beer journey: from start to finish: Part 2

Previously on Beer Journey....

We last saw out hero, the beer, chilling in the garage...

Tonight on Beer Journey we bottle our hero.

First the equipment must all be assembled. I keep all of gear in a Rubbermaid container.
The bottles must be washed and sanitized. First I rinse them out with my bottle washer. This is one of the "must have" optional accessories for a homebrewer. I try to rinse every bottle out after I drink its contents. This bottlewasher rinsing is meant to remove any other dirt or dust or bugs that have found their way into the bottles.
Here is my bottle lineup after washing and rinsing. Notice that in this case I am using 22 oz bottles. I have acquired many of these over the past year or so. Many came with beer in them from Rogue brewing. These beers are awesome, but the price in MN has jumped to over $4 a bottle. That's too much for me. Fat Tire is cheaper and still very good.
At this point I should show a picture of the bottles in the dishwasher. For whatever reason, I didn't take a picture of this. Sorry. Imagine all of these bottles and 12 12oz bottles upside down in a dishwasher....

Good job. Let's move on...

While the dishwasher wash and sanitize cycle runs the rest of the bottling equipment gets a soak in sanitizing solution (note: the dishwasher is NOT used to wash the bottle, only to sanitize them. Very little water gets sprayed into the bottles. Detergent must also NOT be used. Any residual detergent will ruin head formation and retention.). This is my bottling bucket, racking cane, spigot, tubing and bottling wand.
As a added sanitizer, I use Everclear in a spray bottle. In MN, Everclear is sold as the 75.5% variety because the good MN government doesn't trust the general population to control themselves with the 95.5% stuff. I spray this on any surfaces that may not be fully sanitized. Paranoia? Yes, thank you.
This absolutely stunning picture is of the priming sugar in water after being boiled for 10 minutes. Wow!!! It's about 5 ounces of corn sugar in 1 pint of water.
The beer gets transfered by siphon from the carboy to a sanitized bottling bucket. Gravity gets the job done.
The bottles are unloaded from the washer and placed on the floor. The bottling bucket is placed on the counter. A tube is connected from the spigot to the bottling wand (a picture of this would have been nice. Sorry:(). Here is a picture of the first bottle being filled. The bottling wand has a spring loaded valve. When it is pushed down on the bottom of the bottle, the valve opens and beer fills the bottle from the bottom. This is important because oxygen is evil.
How this for a close up.
Almost to the top.
While the bottles are being filled, the caps get sanitized in boiling water. It's the easiest way, but if left too long in water, they will rust. Too long is 30 minutes or so.
Ouch, that's a lot of kinetic energy!!
Each bottle gets a cap.
Uncrimped cap on a bottle.
The capper on a bottle (a different one from above). Obviously, two hands are typically used. The towel is there to mop up any spilled beer on the bottom of the bottles. Hey, it happens.
And here it is. All the goodness sealed inside.
And here is the finished product. I have the combination of 22 and 12 ounce bottles. I've labeled all with a "P" for pilsner.
And here they sit in the garage, chilling at about 40°F. I hope the kids don't want to go on a wagon ride. The answer will be "NO."
That's the end. That's it. That is all there is to it. Oh, except the worst part about the whole process: waiting. This beer will not be carbonated for a few weeks. It is drinkable right now, but not carbonated.

When this beer is first cracked (maybe in April), I will finish this beer journey.

Until next time....

Monday, March 17, 2008

A beer journey: from start to finish: Part 1

This post has been almost 2 months in the making. It is a journey from water to beer. I brewed a pilsner and tried to document each step. In this case, I brewed an extract kit from Midwest Supply. This was the easiest and cheapest way to obtain a large amount of Saaz hops.

It all starts by pouring a beer to enjoy during the brewing process. I chose my metathesis pale ale. mmmmmmmmmmmm
Then the raw ingredients are assembled: 6 lbs of plain extra light DME, specialty grains, 5 ounces of Saaz hops, Wyeast Urquell lager yeast #2001, priming sugar, and Irish mossThe grains are first steeped at 155°F for 30 minutes.The grain bag is removed after 30 minutes and the volume is increased to 2.5 gallons. The DME is added. This is now called "wort."
The volume is brought to 3 gallons and it is brought to a boil.
Once the wort is boiling, 3 ounces of bittering hops are added (3 ounces is a lot, but fitting for this style. The Saaz hops are very low in alpha acids).
After adding the hops, a green scum forms on the surface.
This breaks up after a few minutes of boiling. This is boiled for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, another ounce of hops is added and the irish moss (used to clarify the beer) is added.
This is boiled for 15 more minutes. During which the equipment is sanitized. The carboy gets a soak with one-step sanitizer.
The wort chiller gets a good boil. This could also be done in the boiling wort.
Another ounce of Saaz hops is added for the last 2 minutes. After 60 total minutes of boiling the wort is chilled using the wort chiller. This takes about 20 minutes.
After the wort is down to 80°F, it is filtered and poured into the carboy. I line a sanitized funnel with a sanitized muslin bag.
I was going to use a liquid yeast from Wyeast. However, something happened. I made a starter and it failed to start. I suspect my fridge was too cold and it froze. This could have been a disaster. However, I always have on hand, emergency dry yeast. I took out a lager yeast from the freezer and hydrated it.
The carboy is topped to 5 gallons. I have a thermometer on the carboy and the top of the strip is the 5 gallon mark. The yeast is pitched into the carboy. Notice the beer in the beaker to the left.
Then the clean up begins. The spent grains and hops are collected. I throw them into my compost heap.
The carboy is placed in the kitchen until fermentation begins. I cover it to avoid the sunlight. Sunlight is bad for beer.
After the fermentation started I put the carboy in the garage. It fermented at tempertures between 30-40°F.

Fermentation continued in the garage for a few weeks. be continued...