Monday, January 20, 2014

A Few Beer-Related Updates

Well, unfortunately the brewing scene fell pret-ty quiet after I brewed the big KGB Stout last May.

A big part of that is all the work it takes to brew -- from setup to clean-up -- and finding that time is just way more difficult when there's a baby in the picture.  And don't even get me started on the bottling process -- that takes even more time than the actual brewing!

Which brings me to my first exciting update:

Okay, it doesn't look like much, but that there is a kegging system. So now when I brew, instead of washing and sanitizing 54-ish bottles, I'll just have to clean and sanitize that keg.

Easy peasy.

But actually, what I'm even MORE excited about, is now I won't have to add sugar to the beer before bottling to get it to carbonate -- I'll simply pressurize the keg. So what used to take a week or two will now only take a couple days!

So now the big question is what to put in there. I want to fill it with a lighter beer -- something most people would enjoy (I'll save the bitter hop bombs and big stouts for bottles, since those tend to last a lot longer).

Which brings me to my next little update: one-gallon batches.

I don't really have a good handle on coming up with my own beer recipes. And even though I've had a lot of success following others' recipes, I would love to be able to read a recipe and get a sense of whether or not I would like it, or what I would change about it before brewing it.

Also, I don't have the time or money to invest in a beer that isn't very good (why spend $50+ and make 50-ish beers that are just "okay?").

So in an attempt to learn more, I've decided to make a series of one-gallon batches. The brewing process still takes roughly the same amount of time, but the bottling process and clean-up are MUCH faster.

I just bottled my first one-gallon batch over the weekend, and what used to take a few hours was done in about an hour!

Each batch makes about 6 pints. I went ahead and bottled what was left over (which contains a lot of the gunk at the bottom) and I'll use that to determine when the others are carbed up and ready to drink.

You may remember the glass bottle I fermented in from the Apfelwein I made last year. It worked great, but I did have to pick up some smaller rubber stoppers, and I ended up having an explosion (there isn't much head space in the one-gallon bottle, so I'll definitely have to set up a blow-off system for all future small batches). Luckily, it was down in the basement and I had it covered with a cardboard box so the light wouldn't skunk it, so the explosion was very well-contained.

I need to pick up a few more things from the homebrew shop, but then I'll have enough stuff to make about 4 more one-gallon batches. And since I have two of those glass bottles, I can have two going at once.

Here's the lineup for those interested:

  • Pale Ale
  • SMaSH - Munich malt and Columbus hops (using what I grew last year)
  • SMaSH - Vienna malt and Nugget hops (because I have Nugget on hand)
  • SMaSH - Munich malt and Nugget hops

The big push right now is learning a little more about hop flavors, so that's why I'm doing so many SMaSH recipes (single malt and single hop).

Last but not least, I finally broke down and purchased BeerSmith.

BeerSmith is a program that helps you design recipes, keep track of your ingredient inventory, put together shopping lists (and estimate costs) for future brews, convert recipes (from extract to all-grain, and back), scale recipes (from 5 gallons to 1, for instance), and so much more.

It also comes with tons of tools that you need while you're brewing, such as adjusting your hydrometer reading based on the temperature, figuring out how much water you need for mashing, etc.

Simply put, it's an awesome program and I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of everything that it can do. It definitely beats my old method of using Excel spreadsheets to keep track of my brews:


There are free programs on the Internet that do all of these things, but none that I have found that are this complete or easy to use.

I know this is a pretty small thing to get excited about, but look at how close BeerSmith was on the color of that amber I just bottled:

So that's what's been going on in my little brewery lately. If that amber turns out as good as it looked, I have a feeling that will be the first beer I keg!


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