The Guide To Kegging Your Homebrew

Keg with co2
Stick it in tha fridge

Once you have fully achieved Homebrewer’s compulsive disorder. You will find that you are stockpiling ridiculous amounts of bottled beer. It’s time you started kegging.  There are several benefits to kegging over bottling:

  • You fill up one big bottle, not fifty.
  • You CLEAN one big bottle, not fifty.
  • No maintaining a stockpile of empties.
  • Carbonation is accomplished in days instead of 1 to 2 weeks.
  • CONSISTENT carbonation throughout the batch. No more differences between bottles.
  • Sediment and yeast per glass of beer is less because most of it stays in the bottom of the keg.
  • You drink more beer.

Kegging  requires some initial investment but this equipment can last you a lifetime. You will need:

  1. At least one keg, called a ‘cornelius keg’ or ‘corny’ (seen above). These hold 5.5 gallons which is perfect for a typical batch.
  2. Cornelius keg gas and liquid connectors. For connecting gas and serving tubing.
  3. Tubing and a tap. You know, so the beer has something to flow through.
  4. Carbon dioxide (CO2) tank. This pressurizes the keg for serving and force-carbonating
  5. Gas Regulator. This tells you how much gas you have in the CO2 tank and how much pressure you are applying to the keg.
  6. A spare refrigerator. If you don’t have one you’ll need to find one. See my article on Kegerators if you want to invest in some awesomeness.

All these things may be sourced separately, or you can get just get them here from KeggleBrewing.com. I recommend purchasing a reconditioned keg so that you know its gaskets have already been replaced and tested. Sometimes used corny’s have vile and putrid leftover in them from years passed.

corneliusWhen you are ready to move your freshly fermented homebrew to the keg you will of course have to sanitize first. Fill the keg with water mixed with the recommended about of santizer for 5.5 gallons. Many people swear by Star-San but I’ve never used it and have relied on a bleach solution or a no-rinse santizer like 1-Step or Easy-Clean. Let the keg sit for the recommended of time. Also soak the lid in a santizing solution.  After this time I like to put the lid on the keg and shake it, this might be OCD though. Drain out the keg (rinse it out like crazy if you used bleach) and rack your beer into the keg.

HINT: I like to fill up the keg with CO2 before racking the beer into it. The CO2 pushes all the oxygen out thereby preventing oxidation of your beer during transfer.

Secure the lid to your keg and just stick it in the fridge for several hours. It needs must be cold for the next step in which we force carbonate this bitch. I should note there are several more gentle ways of carbonating your beer but they require extra equipment or take too long. We need to drink as soon as possible so the voices in our heads quiet down.

Once you are sure your kegged beer is as cold as it’s going to get, take it out of the fridge and connect the CO2 tank to it. Set the pressure on the regulator to 20-25 psi.  You will hear a slight hissing sound as the CO2 pressurizes the keg. Sit on a comfy chair in such a way that you can place the keg across your lap so that you may spank it with carbon dioxide.  Rock the keg gently for 10 minutes or so. Sing a song to yourself or something while you do this. While you are rocking the keg you will hear more hissing as the beer accepts more CO2.

HINT: Make sure the gas inlet of the keg is kept up so that beer doesn’t drain into your gas line.

After 10 minutes of rocking and singing, stick the keg and CO2 tank back into the fridge. I usually set the pressure to around 10-12 psi and leave it all alone for 4 days. After this point it’s carbonated enough for my hillbilly tastes.

For the obsessives:

  • Yes there are particular carbonation pressures for different styles and temperatures. You can see a chart here.
  • You can also just skip the rocking and singing and just leave the pressurized keg in the fridge for 10 days or so and it will carbonate just as well.

HINT: Your stupid refrigerator has to go. See my article on Kegerators so you can realize your true destiny.

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Hough’s – Pittsburgh’s Brew on Premise and Craft Beer Heaven

brew kettle thumbnailLately I’ve been obsessing about the feasibility of a “Brew On Premises” operation in my locality which is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This started as an obsession of understanding the technical issues and legalities of converting a homebrewery to a nanobrewery, but the thought of using that equipment in a dual purpose setting with a Brew On Premises seemed like an interesting twist.

If you don’t know what a Brew On Premise operation is, it’s where customers come to an establishment and basically brew their beer. The proprietor provides the brewing equipment, ingredients and cleanup afterward. The customer gets to spend a few hours among their friends and other brewers cooking their beer, watching sports, and (if properly licensed) drinking beers from the attached bar.

I started to get really interested in this idea because you could effectively turn a functioning bar into a Brew On Premises with the expected amount of red tape (See Homebrewery to Nanobrewery), but this equipment could also act as a brewery to which you could distribute your own craft brews directly to your own bar!

Then I used the Google machine on the interwebs and found out someone already thought of this. The Hough Brothers (and family) own a bar in the Greenfield section of Pittsburgh and are weeks away from opening what I believe is Pittsburgh’s first Brew On Premises operation.  A news article from a year ago indicated that things were going full swing. A quick check of their website indicated nothing about a Brew On Premise. Hmmm, what does it all mean?

So we took a trip to Hough’s today and even though they didn’t open until 4, Papa Hough, as I’ll call him let us in to see the place. This is what we saw.

Brew on Premise Kettles
I Want This In My Garage!

It’s beautiful. Six 15 liter steam-fired kettles line the wall. Counterpressure bottling station on the other wall, fermentation and cooling tanks in the basement. Flat screen tv’s on the wall, tile floors. I could go on but let’s just say it was a beautiful operation. I am a straight up sucker for automation, copper, stainless steel and beer and I really wanted to stay and just start working on stuff.

Then Papa Hough upped the game by showing me their custom-made tap wall. Here it is:

tap wall
Wait, Where’s The Bud Lite?

Ok so this place was totally not what I was expecting. It’s got the dark wood English pub feel going on,  this awesome tap wall of craft brews, and a Brew On Premise operation. The friend I had with me is from the area and was completely excited to realize this was a place within walking distance of his house that he could get a decent craft brew and burger.

So in all I wanted to thank Hough’s for bringing something a little new to Pittsburgh, and for letting me into their business off-hours to poke and gawk at all their shiny things.

Brodie Sediment Extractor

Brodie Sediment Extractors
Brodie Sediment Extractors

How many times has this happened to you? You’ve created your perfect ale or lager, bottled it carefully, let it sit and condition for what seems like forever until the day finally arrives that you can taste your brilliant concoction. You pop the cap pour into your glass when….dammit! The yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle breaks loose and makes it into your beer!  Granted this is not a major emergency and the yeast wont kill you. But dammit yeast, I’m done with you bitches and I want you out of here.

The Brodie brothers don’t like to drink yeast from homebrew either so they created the Brodie Sediment Extractor. This little device takes the place of capping in that you attach a sediment extractor to your bottle and let it condition upside down. The yeast falls down into the extractor and when conditioning is complete you simply detach that part of the extractor with the yeast in it and pour your beer – sediment free!

I’m not positive if you would want to use this with certain styles such as wheat beers, which rely on the yeast as part of the flavor profile but I could see this working very well with nearly any other style. I know I’ve had a few ruined pours in my time where giant chunks of yeast fall into my otherwise clear beer so I can definitely see the desire for something like this.

From Homebrewery to Nanobrewery

Red Tape
Red tape. The hallmark of starting your own nanobrewery

The idea of converting your homebrewing operation into a nanobrewery is a truly involved operation. There are multiple levels of government you need to pass through before you can start selling your beer.  This being said it’s not impossible as long as you accept that you will be working hard physically and mentally for some time.

First and foremost you should become as knowledgeable about your legal needs as you are about creating the perfect ale. Buy a good book on starting a brewery such as the Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery. A membership to the Brewers Association (about $155 for an individual) can also help you along the way to answering pertinent questions that you just can’t find on random web forums. This also counts for deciphering legal mumbo jumbo that you may have trouble with on governmental websites like TTB.gov.

While I’m a big advocate of ‘you get what you pay for’, there are some websites out there that offer excellent free advice on legal matters revolving around starting a brewery:

  • Legal Brewing has created an ebook about 21 questions  about opening a brewery in the United State.
  • Legal Libations offers legal advice but it’s in blog format which personally I don’t care for (yeah I know I’m a total hypocrite)
  • The Hess Brewing Odyssey has a great breakdown on the red tape you need to cut through to open your own nanobrewery.

Personally I would go with the Brewers’ Association book to get a more rounded picture of what you are in for. After that start mapping out every detail about how you would expect things to run in your nanobrewery.  When I mean every detail I mean everything:

  • Who is going to buy this beer?
  • Who is going to deliver my beer?
  • Should I upgrade my system so I’m not brewing 3 batches a day for the rest of my life?
  • If demand rises, will I be able to source ingredients in time?
  • What if someone sues me for some stupid reason?
  • How do I hire an accountant/lawyer/consultant without destroying all (if any) profits?

If any of these questions make you sick of reading or shake your confidence then you probably want to calm down, have a homebrew and reflect on how important this is to you.  Knowledge, understanding and planning are key foundations to a successful business which is what you are trying to create. Do yourself a favor and start cracking the books/blogs to become a master of as many ‘what if’ scenarios as you can.

Don’t give up! With a lot of hard work and perseverance you could be the local nanobrewer everyone is talking about!

Recommended Reading: The Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery

 

33Beers Beer Journal

My first real beer festival was at the Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh Pa. It was a magical session of tasting a cornucopia of different beer styles and flavors, all produced in Pennsylvania. I made a mental note of all the beers and styles that I enjoyed best so that I could buy or try to clone them later that year. I was having such a good time I decided I didn’t have the time to wait in line for the free lunch. Things got hazy near the end and I remember sleeping draped across an ottoman back at my house for several hours. I was also greeted by an outstanding 10 pm hangover that kept me awake until the early morning. What beers did I enjoy most from that excursion? Hell if I know.

The gentlemen over at 33beers.com got it right when they created their beer journal. If you’ve every gone to a beer festival with intentions of finding styles or brands you would buy again, you’ve found that by the end of the festival your memory has failed you (for some reason).

The 33beers Beer Journal is a compact booklet that can fit in your back pocket. Aside from general notes and ratings this journal incorporates a unique ‘flavor wheel’ that allows you to visually represent how the beer tastes to you. This is important because it’s easier to fill in some dots on the Flavor Wheel while on your 20th sampler rather thank trying to make a note of or god forbid remember the characteristics of the beer.

The Electric Brewery

Electric Brewery Control Panel
Electric Brewery Control Panel

There are lots of cool ways to use electricity to improve your brewday. Heat sticks, Heat exchangers, and Automatic Temperature Controls can take some of the burden off of you and leave more time for quiet contemplation and drinking.

I have a partial electric brewery in that my hot liquor tank automatically heats itself to a desired level without any input from me. This is great because before that I was heating my mash and sparge water in a pot with a propane burner and then dumping it into the HLT. This became a real problem when I had kids because managing all these tasks takes a long time and is outright dangerous with curious monkeys lurking around.  My setup involves a March pump, a hot water tank heating element and a Ranco temperatur conroller. I based most this off of John P Subsavages designs and I felt pretty special about myself when it was done.

The Electric Brewery” on the other hand, is not screwing around. When I found this site (thanks Reddit) I couldn’t believe my eyes. This guy created a brilliant, beautiful brewing setup.  On top of creating this masterpiece, he provides a complete parts list and how-to on his website so you could do the same.  This setup and website are, in my eyes, perfection. It’s actually a little jealously inducing. Not only has this guy created a jaw-droppingly beautiful brewey AND bar. He’s done it while raising two little ones himself. Well played sir.

The overall cost of creating this system is under $6000 and that’s actually pretty great considering it’s made from all new parts, looks amazing and costs about $2 per session to brew your batch. I think with some Kickstarter funds and a Brewers license one could easily start up a Nanobrewery or small Brew On Premises business relatively easily.

Make Your Own Stir Plate

Stir Plate
Image Courtesy Of BYO.com

Brew Your Own magazine provides a great article on making your own stir plate. Having a stir plate allow you to keep your yeast starter in constant motion, thereby allowing the yeast constant access to it’s food source and oxygen. Your starter will end up being much more active and healthy which is good because it lowers the risk of bacterial infection during primary fermentation.

Another benefit of the stir plate is that you get to feel like a fancy scientist.

The stir plate is super cheap to make and possibly free if you have the parts laying around. If you don’t, mostly everything you need is available at your local hardware or electronics store.

 

Brewing Your First All Grain Batch

copper valves

All Grain beer tastes better than extract. There I said it.  Together we can get you making better beer but you’ll need some equipment first (see below). Got the equipment? Good let’s put the pieces together and brew some beer. I want to note again that all-grain brewing is not all that difficult. It’s a lot of sitting around and waiting (and drinking).

The Mash

Let me take a quick moment to sum up what will happen. You will be soaking grains in hot water which will convert the starches in the grains to simple sugars for the yeast to eat. This is different from extract brewing in that extract is already converted to sugar and ready to be eaten by yeast.

  1. Fill up your boiling kettle with about 5 gallons of water and then heat it up to 165-168 degrees. Don’t go hotter than 170 degrees, going over that temperature will extract unwanted flavors from the grain husks, possibly kill the good enzymes we want.
  2. Mix your crushed grain and hot water together in your Mash Tun until you have what I would describe as a ‘Wet but not Soupy” consistency. What you want is for all the grain to be steeping in the water but to not have it too diluted. If too much water is in the mash it can prevent the enzymes from converting the starches to simple sugars.
  3. Check that the temperature is between 155 and 160 degrees. If it’s too low you might not get a good starch to sugar conversion
  4. Put the cover on the Mash Tun and walk away.
  5. The mashing process usually takes about 1 to 1.5 hours. Best to wait 1.5 so you know that conversion is complete. If you want to cut down on your time you can do an Iodine Test to see if conversion is complete but it’s not necessary.
  6. During this time you can start heating up another 5 gallons of water to 170 degrees. Find a safe and careful way to pour the hot water into your Hot Liquor Tank and put the lid on for later.

The Sparge

During the sparge we rinse the grain of all the newly created sugars. Do this by opening the valve at the bottom of the Mash Tun while sprinkling water on top of the grain inside. The result is the wort we are going to boil.

  1. First we need to make sure all the little grain chunks at the bottom of the mash tun don’t get into our brewing kettle. Open the valve at the bottom of the mash tun enough that it lets out a slow stream of wort. Collect this in a glass bowl or stein . When the bow fills up a bit close the valve. You’ll see lots of little chunks of grain. We don’t want those in the boil so carefully and slowly pour that back on top of the grain in the Mash Tun. Repeat this several times until you get it as clear as you think it will get.
  2. This next part depends on what is available to you so I can’t give you specifics. You will need to get your Hot Liquor Tank up high so that it sits above your Mash Tun. Your Mash Tun needs to be high enough that it sits above your boil kettle. My first setup had the kettle sitting on the floor, the Mash Tun sitting on a chair, and the Hot Liquor Tank sitting on a chair that was sitting on a table. My second setup used a combination of chairs and front porch steps. The main concern is that you do this in a safe manner because you don’t want 5 gallons of 170 degree water tipping on your head.
  3. Connect your sparge arm to your Hot Liquor Tank valve and set it up over the grain in the Mash Tun. Connect a silicone hose from the Mash Tun valve and put it in your boil kettle. Open the valve on the HLT to start sprinkling water on the grain. Open the valve on the Mash Tun to let out a slow stream of wort into the kettle.
  4. During the sparge I like to keep about an inch of water over the grain. This keeps the grain loose for rinsing and prevents it from being compacted and blocking flow.
  5. At about 3 gallons in the boil kettle you’ll want to start taste testing the wort coming out of the hose with a shot glass. If it still tastes sweet then you’re still getting sugars out and can continue sparging. Start tasting for a ‘tea like’ astringency (drying taste on the tongue). If you get to that point close all the valves and put your kettle on the propane burner. I usually add tap water to my kettle at this point to bring it up to 6 gallons (which will get boiled off in the next hour).

The Boil

Now we’re back in familiar territory. You will boil the wort for at least an hour, adding in hops according to their schedule, chill the wort, put it in your fermenter, and pitch in the yeast. Close it all up with an airlock and wait 3-4 weeks. Bottle and profit.

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The Leap To All Grain Homebrewing

old brewery
You wont need this much. Just some coolers.

Whenever I would read about all-grain homebrewing in the various books, it seemed ridiculously complicated. I couldn’t imagine going from the simplicity of extract/grain recipes to what appeared to be an equipment and space nightmare. Strange terminology such as ‘mash tuns’, ‘lauter tuns’ and ‘sparging’ did not sound like fun to me.

It’s true. Going from extract brewing to all-grain is a leap. Both in procedures as well as equipment. But i assure you the taste of all-grain beer is a million times better than extract.

I’m going to simplify and break down the equipment for you now. This is intended for a brewer that already owns the basics such as a fermenter and wants to know what they need to upgrade to all-grain. I’m going to put them in the order I think you should purchase them. This way you can continue extract brewing with the new equipment until your ready for the final pieces.

  1. Propane Burner – You should buy one of these regardless if you are moving to all-grain. Extract brewing with a propane burner  (rather than on the stove) is just the bees knees. Imaging getting your boil started in 5 minutes rather than 30. Seriously worth every cent.¬† It also sounds cool when you turn it up all the way. Fire = good.
  2. Wort chiller – This is also an item you’ll want with all-grain but can benefit you while you are still doing extract brewing. Instead of sticking your boil kettle in a stupid ice bath for 30 minutes, you can simply chill the wort directly. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get your wort to yeast pitching temperature.
  3. Boiling pot – You will want at least a 7.5 gallon pot for boiling.
  4. Hot Liquor Tank – this is a fancy/old term for a hot water tank. Get a 10 gallon picnic cooler (the kind with a spout at the bottom for serving cups of water) from Home Depot.
  5. Mash Tun – This is just a second 10 gallon cooler from Home Depot. This will hold your crushed grain and hot water (the Mash).
  6. Cooler conversion parts (2) – We need to take the existing spouts off of the coolers and outfit them with fancy metal jobs.
  7. Mash screen – This will go at the bottom of your mash tun to allow your wort to come out and keep the grain where it belongs.
  8. Sparge Arm – This is just a device that sprinkles water on top of your mash. You can buy one or make one.
  9. Grain Mill – You can most like get all your grain crushed at the homebrewing store, but my store made you do it yourself. By hand. So I bought my own.
  10. Iodine – Did you know you have to sign for this at the pharmacy now? Anyway iodine is not totally necessary but it’s used to test your mash.
  11. Silicone tubing – Silicone tubing handles extreme heat and wont flatten on you. It’s expensive but totally necessary.

You can slowly buy all the parts up the brewing kettle and continue brewing extract batches. Everything after that though you might want to splurge and get all at once because you’ll need all of it to start your first all-grain batch. Once you have all the parts, it’s time to brew your first all-grain batch.

Extract with Grain

grain
Grain Her? I Barley Knew Her!

Extract kits are fine and good. They will produce the exact same flavor every time and you’ll never be surprised. Oh wait, that sounds boring to you? Then lets add some grain to your recipe and make it actually taste interesting.

Using grain with your extract recipe is called a partial mash, mini mash, or extract with grain. Basically you will take crushed grain that you bought at the homebrewing store and put it into a special bag (also available at the homebrewing store). Heat your water to 155-165 degrees and let you grain bag steep for about 30 minutes. After that remove the grain bag,  add your extract and continue the recipe as usual.

Partial mashes are a great way to add special character to your recipe and it’s also an easy intro to All-grain homebrewing.

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