Lincoln's blog

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Tue, 12 Mar 2013

Hunt for Westvleteren

Back in 2010 I took a beer journey to Belgium with two friends, and wrote a blog about it. I hosted it on Posterous, which is now shutting down. I archived the material here.

I recorded the price we paid for pretty much everything, and pretty much every beer we drank. Useful!

posted at: 22:12 | path: /beer | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 17 Oct 2011

Sixty Gallons

Well, it went off pretty damn well: we brewed 60 gallons of beer last weekend.

In my last post, I vaguely described the setup. I'll give it in more details here, with photos.

These were both taken during the mash, when we had the pump going. You can see it on the floor in the 2nd photo (next to the towel).

The way we organized our brewday was like this: we mashed 30 gallons in two vessels -- our old mash tun and our new Blichmann pot. Each one can hold about 40 pounds of grain. We mashed 40 in each, yielding 36 gallons of wort, which we boiled in two batches of 18 gallons, yielding a bit over 15 gallons post-boil. Doing four mashes and four boils got us 60 gallons of beer. We are fermenting it in twelve 6-gallon Better Bottles.

The pump was really useful. We used it during the mash to recirculate the wort through our hot liquor tank and maintain temperature. It worked -- well enough, at least.

The difficulty was that we undershot our extraction efficiency in the Blichmann, by quite a lot. We expected to hit 90 percent. We hit 77 percent. I have a few candidate explanations: poor water quality (we don't measure the pH at all); not enough water/grain ratio during the mash & sparge; or wasted wort at the end of the mash. I am still trying to figure it out.

posted at: 04:31 | path: /beer | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 06 Oct 2011

Back to brewing

It's been a long time since I've brewed beer!

Over the summer, Neil acquired a 60 gallon wine barrel which we're going to fill with beer. The barrel smells delicious and very winelike right now, so we expect that the first beer we brew in it will pick up lots of wine flavors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but not all styles of beer can support wine overtones.

So our first barrel-aged beer is going to be Vertical Epic 7, for which Stone provides a homebrew recipe. We've had Stone's version of this beer aged in wine barrels before, and it was awesome, so we're going to try to make it ourselves.

In order to brew 60 gallons of beer, you need some new equipment. We found The Electric Brewery, a site with all the plans for an awesome 10-gallon automated brewing setup which you could build in your home. (It costs about $6k.) We're obviously not putting the whole thing together, but we're slowly moving in the direction of better automation, and we're taking a lot of their recommendations for parts.

We bought a 20 gallon Blichmann BoilerMaker for use as a mash tun. We're going to set it up similar to how the Electric Brewery folks did it: during the mash, to maintain temperature, continuously pump sweet wort out of the tun, through a heat exchanger in another vessel, and then back into the mash tun at the top. The heat exchanger will be our existing wort chiller combined with a pot on the stove.

The pump is something I've wanted for a long time. We're going to use it for mashing (to maintain temperature) and sparging (to top off the mash tun with water as we drain the wort). But it will also be generally useful anytime we would have picked up a heavy container of liquid -- instead of picking up that container, just pump the liquid out. It will pump around six gallons per minute, and it supports boiling liquid, and you can restrict the pump rate with a ball valve. The only catch is that you have to place the pump below the level of the source vessel in order to prime it. That's not usually going to be a problem, I don't think.

We also (finally) bought heat-resistant silicone tubing instead of the flimsy vinyl stuff, and we also set ourselves up with lots of quick disconnects for our tubing so that we won't have to pop hoses on and off of barbs all the time.

Overall, I think it's an exciting upgrade, though I haven't gotten to test any of the equipment yet. I'll post pictures when we have it all set up.

posted at: 15:48 | path: /beer | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 22 Aug 2010

Building a Kegerator

I brew beer at home. My roommates and I decided to take it to the next level and build a kegerator (keg refrigerator) so we can have cold draft beer dispensed from a tap in our kitchen.

There are lots of parts. To dispense draft beer, at a minimum you need: kegs (pressurized containers that store and dispense beer), a CO2 tank (to pressurize the kegs), tubing and disconnects for gas and liquid, and some kind of faucet.

To keep it cold, you need some kind of fridge. We are using a GE chest freezer, and we're using a temperature controller to prevent it from actually freezing the beer.

Kegerator from front

To avoid drilling big holes in the freezer itself, we used the popular method of building a wooden collar. You remove the lid, put the collar on the edge of the freezer, and then reattach the lid to the collar. You can easily drill holes in the collar to allow taps and cables through. And if you don't want the kegerator anymore, the freezer can return to normal freezer status.

Kegerator tap Kegerator from above showing 1 keg and CO2 tank

The temperature controller is also homemade. I picked up an Arduino microcontroller, temperature sensor for Arduino, relay for wall current, and a few other electronic parts, so my Arduino can turn a plug-in device on or off.


Item Source Cost
Refrigerator assembly
GE Chest Freezer 7.0 ft3 Home Depot - we got their floor model for cheaper 150
Collar lumber, screws, stain, & caulk Home Depot 15
1st tap assembly
Keg kit (1 Cornelius keg, CO2 tank, regulator, fittings) Rebel Brewer 180
Fill CO2 tank (it ships empty) Modern Brewer (local homebrew shop) 25
1st Perlick faucet Modern Brewer 40
1st shank, beer nut, and washer Modern Brewer 20
2nd tap
2nd keg Modern Brewer 40
2nd Perlick faucet Modern Brewer 40
2nd shank, beer nut, and washer Modern Brewer 20
Gas 5-way manifold Modern Brewer 120
Gas line 2-way splitter and valve (no longer used) Modern Brewer 40
2nd beer+gas line, disconnects, & misc supplies Modern Brewer 20
Last 2 taps
2 Perlick Faucets RiteBrew 50
Homemade temperature controller
Arduino Duemilanove Modern Device 30
Arduino Temp Sensor Modern Device 10
Relay & misc parts Digi-Key 20
Total 820

For the collar, we followed this guy's instructions. We bought 10 feet of 2x6 pine from Home Depot, measured it against our freezer, and cut it with a table saw. We screwed it together with 2.5" wood screws. You can see the screws on the front on one of the pictures above. If I had thought ahead more, I would've made the short sides longer and screwed it in from the side instead.

After putting the collar together and sanding it, we applied pre-stain to the soft pine, let it dry for 2 hours, applied stain, and let it dry for 24 hours. Then we went to the local homebrew shop to pick up the faucet and shank. They sold us the parts and loaned us the correct hole saw for cutting the faucet holes. So we cut the holes and stained it once more.

Then we stuck it onto the freezer by laying down a line of caulk and putting the wood on. Left it for 24 hours with our brewpot full of water to weigh it down. We should have used new silicone caulk, but we used 10-year-old caulk which didn't set properly. Nonetheless, the collar doesn't budge, so we're leaving it that way.

Last step is the temperature controller. I don't know too much about electronics, but I know enough to be dangerous. In this case, I was attempting a project I'd never done before: switching mains voltage (120V powering the freezer) with a microcontroller.

The mains voltage must be isolated from the arduino using a relay, which lets us have separate switching circuit and power circuit. My original plan was to use a 5V relay, with the coil across the Arduino's digital pin and ground.

However, I read about it enough to determine that that's a bad idea: the relay is an inductive load, which produces "back emf" when it is turned off. Back emf is a voltage spike which can blow transistors if you're not careful. The way you deal with back emf is with a flyback diode. I also used a transistor on the Arduino's output pin, because I wasn't sure how much current the relay would draw through the Arduino. In all, I ended up using the circuit given here. Soldered it together without a breadboard. It's been a while since I soldered anything, but I managed to get the device working on the first shot -- no shorts, no blown circuit breakers, or anything.

Initially I had the temperature sensor about halfway to the bottom of the fridge, and it was reading very high temperatures. The fridge has a very strong temperature gradient; it can be below freezing at the bottom when it's still 50F at the top. (This is probably due to the poor insulation at the top due to the wood and holes through the wood.)

So I made an extension cable for the temperature sensor. Now the sensor itself is nearly at the bottom, and the Arduino and the rest of the kit can sit outside the freezer. After only a few soldering problems I had it working. Of course, while trying to install the extension cable, I snapped one of the pins off my transistor, so I had to redo the soldering for that circuit.

For the party this weekend, I wanted to label the taps. I discovered that whiteboard marker works beautifully and erases well from the front of the fridge.

And that's a kegerator! I'll continue updating the price sheet above, and adding descriptions of anything interesting we come across as we fill out the four taps. And if you are near Boston, feel free to stop by, have some beer and talk about the project.

posted at: 21:38 | path: /beer | permanent link to this entry