Friday, October 10, 2008

Hop Exchange

With all this talk of the hop shortage over the year, I would pick up hops 8oz at a time when I would see them. Well, they added up pretty quickly. I have a pretty large surplus of American hops. My one issue is I would like to start brewing some Belgian and German style ales. So now I am looking to trade. If anyone has some extra Noble, English, German, Czech hops they would like to trade, shoot me an email or leave a comment.

I created a spreadsheet with my inventory of hops of Google. You can find that here:

Here is a quick graph that should be up to date with all my varieties.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Love My Refractometer

As I grow as a brewer, I try to find ways to refine my process. This can sometimes be a daunting task since I am expanding my system and abilities all the time. One piece of equipment I cannot live without is my new Refractometer.

What is a Refractometer?

A Refractometer is an instrument that measures the bending of light (refraction) through a liquid. In brewing and wine making, it measures the density of sugars in the solution.

How to Use It

The issue with using a Hydrometer is that on must take a large sample of wort to get a reading. Once you get the reading, it is not recommended to pour that beer back into the main wort because it might introduce infections. If you like to check your specific gravity (SG) several times during the boil and fermentation, you could end up losing several pints before your beer is ready for consumption.

A Refractometer is wonderful for one reason. It only takes a couple drops to get a reading. Readings are usually in Brix, but with some simple math, it can be converted to SG easily.

Simply place a few drops of wort onto the lens and then look into the eye piece. A reading in Brix should appear. To convert this brix reading to specific gravity, simply multiply by 4. There is a more accurate formula, but the multiply by 4 formula will get you pretty close. If your Refractometer reads 10 brix and you multiply by 4, you get 40. This means your wort is 1.040. The actual is 1.039, but I said the simple math would get you close.

How to Use a Refractometer While Brewing Beer

Using a Refractometer while brewing is one of the better enhancements I have made to my brewing process. It allows me to make simple adjustments, on the fly, while brewing.

It is important to buy a Refractometer with ATC (Automatic Temperature Compensation). This will help with readings in various room temperature ranges. Most refractometers are ATC, but incase the one you got is not, use a temperature compensation chart.

When the mash conversion is complete and my wort is heating up, I take a reading. This gives me my Pre-Boil Gravity (PBG). I then take a reading about 30 minutes into the boil to see how things are going and to see if I am on the way in hitting my Original Gravity (OG). I then take a reading with about 15-20 minutes left in the boil. This is the most important time to adjust the brew. If it looks like my OG is going to be too low, I can add some dried malt extract (DME). If it looks like my OG is going to be too high, I can add a little bit of water.

All I need to do it take a tiny sampling (2-3 drops) of the wort to get my reading. I use a disposable pipette to sample from the wort. It allows me to take the tiniest of samples.

If I were to use a hydrometer, I would need to take a larger sample and cool it down to 60-70 degrees before I get an accurate reading. This takes time, but it can be done. I have too many other things going on while the wort is boiling then to take a sample, cool it down, and then check the SG.

Since I started using a Refractometer, I have never missed an original gravity. This has helped me create balance in my beers.

How to Use a Refractometer While Fermenting

Since fermenting beer contains alcohol, the reading from the Refractometer will not be accurate. This is where a hydrometer by itself works perfectly. Many people wait until their beer stops bubbling before the use the hydrometer to get the final gravity (FG) reading, but I am nosey and want to know how my yeast are easting as they are going. I still don’t want to lose a half pint every time I check with a hydrometer and I like to check my progress daily (sometimes twice daily). With a complex mathematical formula, it is possible to use a Refractometer even during fermentation.

In a Video, Chris Graham from explains how to use a Refractometer during the fermentation process (). The More Beer site also offers a simple Excel Worksheet that takes advantage of that complex mathematical formula so you don’t need to learn math.

All you need to do is take 2-3 drops of fermenting beer and place it on the Refractometer. Take your reading as normal, but then enter it into the Refractometer spreadsheet. As long as you know the starting original gravity, the spreadsheet will do the rest. It is simple and it allows a brewer to know exactly when a brew is done.


A Refractometer has made me a better brewer by allowing me to balance my beers perfectly. Never again will I miss an original or final gravity or wonder how far along my fermentation is. The Refractometer is one of the best investments I have made. You can find them cheap on eBay also. I think mine cost around $24.99USD. It is sturdy and seems like it will last a long time. For me, it was a no brainer.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hop Garden Update

Things are going well with 2 of my 4 plants. My Chinook Hops are still a no show. I will have to by some new root stock in the spring to get those going. My cascades are only about 2-3 feet high. If you remember, they had an issue early in the year when my dog decided to step on the young budding bines and break them. I was happy they came back, but they are still small and not going to produce anything this year.

My Centennial and Nugget Hops are doing great. I read that with first year hops, not to expect much. If this is true, I am in trouble for next year. My Centennial hops have a bunch of cones all over the plant and a bunch more blossoms that will be turning to cones. My Nugget Hops are a little behind, but have a ton of flowers waiting to bud into cones. They are both at the top of the twine (about 16-18 foot) and are producing a ton. I may be doing my first harvest during the week and can’t wait to try these out in a special brew.

Here are some pictures of their growth.
Centennial Hop Cones
Centennial Hop Cones
My Hop Garden
Centennial Hop Cones
Nugget Hops starting to bloom
Centennial Hop Cones
Centennial Hop Cones
Nugget Hops starting to bloom
Centennial Hop Cones
Centennial Hop Cones
My Hop Garden
Centennial Hop Cones
Nugget Hops starting to bloom

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Beerzilla’s Hopsicle

With all this talk I hear about the limited release of Pliny the Elder in bottles and Sam Adams not being able to produce Mike McDole’s Longshot 6 pack winning beer(modeled after Pliny), I decided the only way to taste one of these brews was to make it myself.

These beers are intense with over a pound of hops for a 5 gallon batch. I’ve done a bunch of reading on the style and made some of my own modifications to the recipes. I changed some of the grain bill to fit my tastes and the hop bill was modified due to availability of hops in this shortage. Take extra special attention to sanitation and plan everything out. This will be a costly brew, you don’t want it to suck.

This is the recipe I designed and it is a whopper.


Mashed (single infusion at 151 degrees, batch sparge efficiency set at 75%)

- US 2-Row Malt         14lbs      80.6 %
- US Carapils Malt 8.00 oz 2.9 %
- US Flaked Oats 8.00 oz 2.9 %
- US White Wheat Malt 4.00 oz 1.4 %
- US Caramel 40L Malt 4.00 oz 1.4 %
- US Caramel 20L Malt 4.00 oz 1.4 %
- US Black Malt 2.00 oz 0.7 %
In The Boil (near the end)
- Corn Sugar/Dextrose   1lb 8oz    8.6 %
Variety           AA        Weight     IBU     When
US Chinook 10.5 % 1.00 oz 36.9 Mash Hopped
US Warrior 17.5 % 2.00 oz 111.9 90 Min
US Magnum 13.0 % 1.00 oz 45.7 90 Min
US Chinook 10.5 % 0.50 oz 18.5 90 Min
US Simcoe 13.0 % 1.00 oz 39.2 45 Min
US Columbus 12.6 % 0.50 oz 14.5 30 Min
US Chinook 10.5 % 0.50 oz 6.3 10 Min
US Simcoe 13.2 % 2.00 oz 0.0 At turn off
US Summit 18.1 % 1.00 oz 0.0 At turn off
US Palisade 7.4 % 1.00 oz 0.0 At turn off
Czech Saaz 5.8 % 0.50 oz 0.0 At turn off
US Simcoe 13.2 % 2.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Amarillo 5.0 % 2.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Summit 18.0 % 1.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Centennial 8.5 % 1.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Columbus 12.6 % 1.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Palisade 7.4 % 1.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
WLP001 - California Ale

Used a mixture of whole hops and pellet hops. Didn’t use hop bags, but probably should have. The brew pot was tough to drain with all the hops. Hops suck up a lot of wort. I started with 8.5 gallons and ended up with 5.5 gallons.

Dry hopping begins at day 7 ( or when fermentation is around 90%). I broke the dry hops into 2 even groups. One group is for days 7-14. This will be in a hop bag. After day 14, remove hop bag 1 and insert hop bag 2 for another week. This is done at fermentation temperatures in a bright tank keg. After day 21, remove hop bag 2 and drop the temperature and wait a week or 2. Transfer out of bright tank into a serving keg and carbonate. In another week, you will have some of the best beer on earth if you are a hop head like me.

Monday, May 26, 2008

My First Year Hop Garden

With all this talk of hops shortages and hop crisis, I decided to try to grow some of my own hops. I’m not alone. There seems to be thousands of home brewers, in the same boat as me, growing their own hops. I ordered my 4 hop rhizomes from the Thyme Garden. They were Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Nugget. They were all planted in early/mid April and I have had various results. I am sure everyone has different results and it comes down to each individual rhizome. Here’s what I got now.

Centennial Hops
The Centennial hops are by far my best growing hops. They are about 4 foot high and I have 3 bines climbing up the twine right now with one more about to grow.

My Hops - Centennial

My Hops - Centennial

Nugget Hops
The Nugget hops are growing pretty nicely. They are about 8-10 inches high and I have 2 bines that are starting to look for the twine to climb. They should be climbing by next weekend or so.

My Hops - Nugget

Cascade Hops
My cascade hops are growing, but I had a slight issue with them. I used Bone Meal as a fertilizer and my dog thought it was a delicious treat. So he decided to lick at the Bone Meal and accidently stepped on one of my 2 bines that were growing. They were both small, but it seems to have stunted the other one. So it is only about an inch or two high and hasn’t gotten any bigger in 3 weeks. I am hoping once the shock settles, these will start growing again.

My Hops - Cascade

Chinook Hops
These are a no show. From what I understand, the Thyme Garden ran out of Chinook, so they had to fill their orders from another company. The Chinook rhizome seemed to be the smallest, so maybe I am just being impatient. I will let it be. There’s not much I can do now.

My Hops - Chinook

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cheap Mash & Lauter Tun for only $55 or Less

I’ve only been brewing for a short while, but I sure have caught the bug. I have brewed eight beers so far using extract and steeping grains. This morning, I brewed a Belgian Wit. The Wit recipe called for mini mashing a pound of flaked oats, a pound of German wheat malt, and 2 pounds of pilsner malt. This was my first mini mash.

I have been reading up on moving to all-grain and figured I just need to do it. It will only help me fine tune my recipes and help my beer be everything it should be. I did a bunch of research and decided batch sparging is the method I will be first using. Denny Conn’s article on batch sparging was a great help on how to build a mash tun for batch sparging. So I went out this weekend and picked up everything I needed from Walmart and Lowes.

I found my 50qt Rubbermaid Cooler at Walmart for $28.99. I went with a slightly larger cooler because I plan to do 10-gallon batches of high gravity beers. The cooler seems it will do the job perfectly. It claims to keep ice for 5 days in 90-degree weather, so I think it will keep a mash temperature for an hour. It is possible to use almost any cooler with batch sparging. If you have an old cooler lying around, it is possible convert it back and forth between a cooler and a mash tun. This will cut the price in half. You can also find coolers at yard sales for cheap to cut down the price.

I then headed over to the Lowes and proceeded to pick up the parts to make this cooler a mash and lauter tun. I used the directions I found on the Fly Guy MLT page and updated the parts for this cooler. They are as followed.

Parts inside the tun
  • All stainless steel ¼” hose clamps x 2
  • Brass square head plug (Watts A-737)
  • ½” x 30” braided stainless steel supply hose
  • 3/8” female barb adapter (Watts A-298)
  • 3/8” MIP x 2” brass nipple (Watts A-787)
  • Seal from plastic spigot of cooler (shown below)
Parts outside the tun
  • 5/8” O-ring (preferably heat resistant, if you can find one)
  • 5/8” fender washers
  • 3/8” threaded ball valve
  • 3/8” male barb adapter (Watts A-294)
You will also need some plumbing Teflon tape.

I’m not going to go step by step on how I assembled the tun because you can find the direction on the Fly Guy MLT site. However, I can say it was very easy. The hardest part was cutting the stainless steel supply hose. I tried doing it without any power tools and no saw, but that didn’t work so well. I then remembered I had a metal cutting blade adapter to my RotoZip. A hacksaw would work just as good, but I didn’t have one around. Once it was cut, it took some finagling to get the inner hose out.

Here are some photos of the completed mash & lauter tun.

Mash Tun

Mash Tun - Ball Valve

Mash Tun - Stainless Steel Braid

Mash Tun - Internal Connector

Now I need for my Wit to complete fermentation so I have space to brew another beer. I will post about my first full all-grain brew once I brew it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

National Homebrew Day - My Honey Blonde Ale

Saturday May 3rd was the National Homebrew Day’s Big Brew. I wanted to participate in the big brew with a bunch of people, but my schedule didn’t allow it. I did squeeze in a brew though. I ran to my local homebrew shop and picked up some ingredients for a Honey Blonde Ale. I formulated the recipe in my head as I was driving to the store.

Every beer I have brewed so far has been dark or hoppy. My wife finds these styles repulsive. This beer is an attempt to brew a crowd pleaser for the people who don’t like a beer with complex flavors.

I am writing this post as the wort is boiling and the recipe goes a little something like this.


  • 2 cans - (6.6lbs) of Coopers Light Liquid Malt Extract (one at 45 min and one at 15min)
  • 1 lb - of Orange Blossom Honey (at flame out)
  • 8oz – Crystal 10L (steeped)
  • 4oz – Victory (steeped)
  • 1oz 4.0% Liberty (70min)
Did anyone else brew? If so, leave a comment on what you brewed.