June 17, 2009

Brewing your first beer, post I: the equipment

Since this will be your first beer, we're going to keep things as simple as possible. Terms that you likely won't hear in this series:

1) sparging
2) protein rest
3) saccharification
4) isohumulone

Things that you are likely to hear:

1) boiling
2) carbonation
3) bottling
4) drinking

Anyway, there a variety of items that you could use for homebrewing, but I don't want to stress you out. In the motto of the American Homebrewers Association: Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew.

Okay, first things first. You will need a kettle to boil your beer in. Technically, the beer will be called wort at this stage. And now you've added a new word to your vocabulary, although I haven't found a way to use it in conversations NOT about brewing.

Back to the boiling pot. It should be at least 3 gallons, although 5 gallons is probably better and 10 gallons would be better still. But if you want to save money, stick with the smaller pot. Some people get a little too serious about the type of kettle: ceramic coated stainless, pure stainless steel, pots that come with your own personal Emeril to screech "BAM!" every time you add something to it. Me? I went the inexpensive route and bought an aluminum pot. But hey, it's your setup. Whatever makes you happy.

Next on the list as a must have item is a fermentation vessel. You have a couple of realistic choices here as a homebrewer: glass or plastic. 5 gallon glass carboys are easy to find and they're not too expensive. Since you'll typically brew 5 gallon batches, though, you will need to use a blowoff tube for the first couple of days and then add on a fermentation lock. If that sounds like too much effort, a 6-1/2 gallon carboy is probably a better choice because you can stick the lock on top from the get go. And having said all that, I suggest that you go with a plastic fermentation vessel for your first batch. They're usually 6-1/2 to 7 gallons in capacity and have airtight lids with a single opening for your fermentation lock. Also, they're pretty much unbreakable, which isn't the case for glass fermentation vessels. Again, it's your call.

On second thought, you'll probably want to go ahead and order a 5 gallon glass carboy, or at least put it on lay-away. Glass is absolutely required for secondary fermentation. Granted, we won't bother with that for our first beer, but we will for future brews.

How will you get the beer into your fermentation vessel? You're going to need a pretty large plastic funnel. Maybe not for your first beer, but definitely for the next one.

If you want some idea of the potential alcohol in your brew, you'll need a hydrometer, a device used to measure the specific gravity of liquids. The more sugar that's dissolved in the beer, the greater potential alcohol content. And a floating thermometer is useful as well. It's bad form to add yeast to your brew while it''s too hot. Also, you'll need to know the temperature of your wort when taking the specific gravity if you want to correctly determine the specific gravity of your beer.

Since I mentioned fermentation locks in the preceding paragraph, I might as well discuss those next. There are several types available. A picture of the two most common ones can be found here. They both accomplish the same task: let carbon dioxide from the fermentation escape while preventing anything from getting back into the beer.

Once fermentation has completed, you'll need a bottling bucket. I suggest that you buy one with a spigot already attached. You will rack(siphon) the beer from the fementation vessel into the bottling bucket using a racking cane. This prevents having a lot of yeasty sludge from ending up in your bottles. Also, you'll probably want to buy a spring-loaded bottle filler, which makes filling up the bottles a much simpler task. It also leaves about the perfect amount of headspace in each bottle. In my opinion, this small piece of equipment will make your bottling experience less painless.

You'll need bottles, too, about 50-60 12-ounce bottles, or 25 24-ounce bottles. How do you aquire them? Well, you could buy brand spanking new bottles from the store, but I tend to get them from my other friends that drink beer, asking them to save all of their empties. My pals are usually very helpful in this regard, especially after I've promised to give them some samples of my homebrew. By the way, ask your friends to rinse the bottles after they're empty. Cleaning mold out of bottles isn't an enjoyable task.

Okay, you've filled your bottles with your beer. Now you need to cap them. This means, of course, that you will need 50-60 unused bottle caps, as well as a bottle capper to put them onto the bottles. Again, go the inexpensive route and purchase a lever-armed bottle capper. Bench cappers are nice, but more expensive, and they require more effort on your part if the bottles aren't all the same size, which is likely to be the case if you're using castoff empties.

I almost forgot: you'll need a couple of pieces of plastic tubing, too. One piece will attach to the racking cane and another to the bottle filler.

I think that our brewing list is pretty much complete. Let's recap what you'll need:

1 3-5 gallon brewing kettle
1 5 or 6 gallon glass carboy
1 6.5 to 7.5 gallon "food grade" plastic fermenter with airtight locking lid
1 6 foot length of 3/8-inch inside diameter clear plastic tubing
1 racking cane
1 fermentation lock
1 rubber stopper to fit the fermentation lock(It's bad form to not notice until you're pitching the yeast that they don't fit. Not that I know from experience or anything. I'm just saying.)

1 2-3 foot length of 3/8-inch outside diameter tubing which should fit the next item
1 spring-loaded bottling wand
1 large plastic funnel
1 floating thermometer
1 hydrometer
1 bottle capper, for which you'll need lots of new bottle caps.
50-60 beer bottles, preferably the non-screwtop type. Brown glass is the best, but pretty much anything will work.

I forgot to mention how important proper sanitation is. Let's go the cheap route yet again and use unscented household bleach. You don't want your beer to taste lemony fresh. Ugh.

That's enough to get started. We'll go over the limited ingredient list in the next post in this series.

What's that you say? You don't have a brewshop in your town? Have no fear, there are shops all over the country that will gladly ship the stuff right to your door. Check here and here. If you don't find what you're looking for there, then check out these links. Oh, and lots of places sell beginner kits containing most or all of the equipment listed above. Your mileage may vary.

See you next post.

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April 08, 2009

Really popular science

Ever have a warm 6-pack sitting around and wished you could chill it in seconds? Well, now you can.

Yes, I saw Mythbusters do the whole beer chilling episode. However, the geek cred for their icy brine solution is way less than the one seen here.

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October 29, 2008

Back to basics

While I have an interest in how this election plays out, I think that it's time to return to my second love: brewing beer. Physics, of course, is my first love, which is why, of course, I had to pick a second love that wasn't a person. Lookin' for love in all the wrong places? Well, the physics department is one of those wrong places.

Anyway. When last I started on my brewing your first beer series, I ended with Brew Day. I-

Okay, it's been 3 years. Bite me.

- never got around to bottling your beer. That will be my next post, which post will pop up before election day. So far as you know, anyway.

In the interim, I leave you with a picture that proves there is a God:

I really need to make shirt out of that image.

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October 13, 2008

My liver is in open revolt

And my kidneys have decided to vacation on the French Riviera to recuperate from this past weekend's trip to the GABF. On the plus side, the ache in my feet has subsided and the foul emissions of methane (prompted by lots of cask conditioned ales plus lots and lots of greasy food) have been reduced to a point where coworkers in neighboring cubes have stopped clawing at their throats and faces.

Lots of pictures and commentary to post in the near future. To whet your appetite, or kill it as the case may be, I'll leave you with this shot of me. While I truly have a face for radio, I will offer the defense that I was sleep deprived and alcohol, well, whatever the opposite of deprived is. Picture below the fold, for those of you with strong stomachs.

more...

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October 06, 2008

GABF personal update

Well, this Thursday morning, around oh-shit thirty, I and 3 friends will drag ourselves to the airport, at which point we'll get lashed to the wings and dragged along at 37,000 feet to Denver.

Oh wait, I wasn't able to use frequent flyer miles. We paid cash this time, which means that we'll get to ride inside, which is nice.

I still don't know what geographic area of the Convention Center I will be assigned to, but you might be able to find me wandering around downtown Denver Thursday, Friday and Saturday. At least one of those days, probably Thursday, I'll be at Rock Bottom Brewery along the 16th Street Marketplace. I'll be easy to find, as I'll be wearing my Ace t-shirt or my Nuke the Moon t-shirt from IMAO. Probably the former, though, because I want to wear the nuke shirt around Boulder just to see how people respond.

Oh, and late Thursday night, we'll finish off the day with a Thai Pie washed down with some Fat Tire at Old Chicago's. We'll be easy to find, as we'll be the guys who haven't slept in 24 hours while drinking massive quantities of beer.

Come to think of it, we won't be that easy to find. The GABF brings lots of like minded individuals to Denver.

Update: Well, I know where we'll be now. From an email received about 30 seconds ago:


We have 1 ½ islands this year. The full island is a combination of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana.
...
Oh and we also have the Bull & Bush band in our area again.

The Bull & Bush group is a lot of fun. I'll make nice again with them to try and score some swag. Oh, and come Saturday evening, I'll have enough temporary beer tatoos on my face and arms that it'll look like I stepped out of a Ray Bradbury novel.

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September 25, 2008

Coming soon

Well, this year's trip to Denver will mark my 10th mostly annual (my daughter was born GABF weekend one year) pilgrimage to the Great American Beer Festival. As yet, I don't know which section I will be volunteering in, although I can predict with a great degree of certainty that it will be somewhere within the 50 (or 57) states. In any event, if any readers or fellow MuNuvians are in the Denver area Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, October 9-11, look for me in the Colorado Convention Center or in the downtown area. Outside of the GABF, I'll be wearing my Ace t-shirt or my Nuke the Moon! t-shirt. Inside the hall, I'll be wearing a volunteer t-shirt over my nasty conservative credentials. However, once I find out what section I'll be pouring in, I'll post it on this blog.

One final thought: we typically head down to Old Chicago's for a Thai Pie and pitcher of Fat Tire after the festival ends, so I can be found down there between 10:30 p.m. and midnight most days.

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June 16, 2008

It's where the beer is

Every year at the GABF, some moron says to me, "You mean that you come all this way just for the beer?" No, I come each year because it's legal, for the duration of the Great American Beer Festival, to slap people asking stupid questions.

Yeah, the conversation tends to go downhill after that.

Anyway. Fresh meat Another friend is making his first trek to Denver with me this, bringing our total number of drunken idiots beer lovers from Virginia to 4, which is what it used to be before the other two guys wimped out. If anyone wants to stop by for a chat, let me know in advance and I'll tell you where you can find me. Maybe we can grab some more beer afterwards. I plan to, regardless, but YMMV.

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May 27, 2008

That brown sudsy stuff? I've heard good things about it.

If you're interested in such things, you might want to check out the website Beer Suggest. From their "About" page:


Beer Suggest is a niche community for beer lovers. The goal of Beer Suggest is to provide the most informative beer site on the net. This is a quite a hefty task, which is why we look to you, the user to help build this website.

Beer Suggest compiles beer reviews, brewery info and a list of beer related events. You might want to check it out. Register for free and start rating/reviewing your favorite brews.

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January 16, 2008

From the cradle of life

Or the James Gate Brewery in Dublin; I forget which.

Thanks to Bill Quick for the link.

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October 01, 2007

The time is nigh

The GABF is once again about to kick off in Denver, Colorado. I will be there-again- for my 9th trip in the last 10 years; I took off one year when my daughter chose the GABF weekend to be born. Such is life. In any event, I'll be there Thursday thru Saturday. If anyone wants to meet up for a brew or 1200, look for me in the Mountain section. Or is the Mountain West section? I forget. In any event, I'll be pouring Thursday/Friday/Saturday evening, leaving Saturday afternoon for my free drinking session. And I'll end each day with a Thai pie and a Fat Tire at Old Chicago's, which means that I'll start each day with a ginormous fart. Hey, it's worth it, to me anyway. My roommates might disagree. In any event, see (maybe) some of you there. Drop me a line if you're interested in some real life geekery.

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August 16, 2007

Mark your calendar

The Great American Beer Festival, 2007 edition, will occur on October 11, 12 and 13 this year. It's located at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Individual sessions can be a bit pricey, but there's a way around that: volunteer. And if you volunteer for 3 sessions, you get into the 4th one for free.

If anyone in the MuNu family- or anyone else, for that matter- wants to drop by the Denver area for a beer or 1200, I'll be there. Drop me a line if you think that you might be interested. I'll be easy to find, as my volunteer group is in the Mountain section this year, and I'll be wearing either my SciFi Book Club hat or my Cheerwine hat.

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August 06, 2007

Tastes crappy, but definitely less filling

So the world's first virtual poured beer will appear sometime later this week. Color me unimpressed. What will impress is when a click of the mouse fills my actual mug with actual beer. Until then, go away and play with your silly computer graphics. Crap, it's not like there are any naked women or cool D&D characters being animated.

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May 16, 2007

Pizza flavored beer

'Nuff said.

Thanks go to Dave Barry for the link.

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May 10, 2007

My lost weekend

Okay, it was only about 35 minutes, not a whole weekend, but I had my role as navigator revoked as a result. I'm still not certain if the revocation is permanent or not.

Anyway. My buddies and I drove down to Raleigh recently for the World Beer Festival. The weather was pretty much perfect for an outdoor festival: it was sunny and the temperature was in the low 70s. And there were lots of breweries, most of which had beers which ranged from good to great. Abita, Sierra Nevada, Chimay and lots of others besides. Also, there was a lot of good food, which proved useful in washing down the beer.

So we sipped and supped for a few hours, being careful to not become drunk because we had to drive back home to Richmond, and then we hiked back to the car and got started on our return journey. And this is where the... fun began.

I remember getting into the front seat and relaxing, closing my eyes a bit while the three of us started some chit chat about Highlander cards and-

I DID mention that they were friends of mine, right? You shouldn't be surprised at nerd games being discussed. Probably none of you are.

- then everything kind of blanked out for a while. For me. To me, I was asleep. Oddly, and unfortunately for my friends in the car with me, I continued to speak. According to them -and I have no reason to doubt- I even waved my hand in front of the driver's face a couple of times to see if he was awake.

I know what you're thinking: this sounds like something that I could be mocked about, but no real harm done. That's where you'd be wrong. In my somnolent, yet conversant, state, I apparently replied a couple of times to, well, here's a sample of what was said:


Driver: Are you sure that we're going the right way?

Me: Sure, you're fine.

Well, the statement was true as a point of fact. Jeff was fine and dandy. Physically. However, we were NOT going the right way. In fact, we were going in what would best be described as the opposite of the right way. We wanted to go north and we were seeing signs for US-1, south, which sort of tipped us off. And by us, I include myself because I finally woke up. Despite assertions to the contrary, my higher brain functions were not working during that period. You could make the argument that they never work, but that's a different argument. In any event, we stopped at a Quickie Mart or something and asked the guy how to get to I-95. He wasn't sure, but he did laugh out loud when we told him where we wanted to go.

To the backseat I went. Being fully awake now, I made some comments about which exit to take, which lane to be in; my sister lives in Raleigh and I'm more than little familiar with the area. To each comment, Jeff asked, "So other guy not named Physics Geek, which way do we go? Or is the cause of our 1-1/2 hour delay in getting home actually correct this time?"

The mocking is certain to follow me to my grave, but it's well deserved. I'm still curious as to how I managed to give the appearance of being awake while not actually being so. It would allow me to catch up on my sleep at work. Then again, sleeping next to the Big Red Button would get me fired, so maybe I'll think on it a little more.

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April 04, 2007

In a nutshell

Courtesy of Val comes this comic strip which, I believe, encapsulates my life:
more...

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March 13, 2007

An idea whose time has come

I'm so proud of this Duke graduate that I could cry.


When John Cornwell graduated from Duke University last year, he landed a job as software engineer in Atlanta but soon found himself longing for his college lifestyle.

So the engineering graduate built himself a contraption to help remind him of campus life: a refrigerator that can toss a can of beer to his couch with the click of a remote control.

"I conceived it right after I got out," said Cornwell, a May 2006 graduate from Huntington, N.Y. "I missed the college scene. It embodies the college spirit that I didn't want to let go of."

It took the 22-year-old Cornwell about 150 hours and $400 in parts to modify a mini-fridge common to many college dorm rooms into the beer-tossing machine, which can launch 10 cans of beer from its magazine before needing a reload.

With a click of the remote, fashioned from a car's keyless entry device, a small elevator inside the refrigerator lifts a beer can through a hole and loads it into the fridge's catapult arm. A second click fires the device, tossing the beer up to 20 feet -- "far enough to get to the couch," he said.

Is there a foam explosion when the can is opened? Not if the recipient uses "soft hands" to cradle the can when caught, Cornwell said.

In developing his beer catapult, Cornwell said he dented a few walls and came close to accidentally throwing a can through his television. He's since fine-tuned the machine to land a beer where he usually sits at home, on what he called "a right-angle couch system."

For now, the machine throws only cans, although Cornwell has thought about making a version that can throw a bottle. The most beer he has run through the machine was at a party, when he launched a couple of 24-can cases.

"I did launch a lot watching the Super Bowl," he said. "My friends are the reason I built it. I told them about the idea and hyped it so much and I had to go through with it."

A video featuring the device is a hit on the Internet, where more than 600,000 people have watched it at metacafe.com, earning Cornwell more than $3,000 from the Web site.

Cornwell said he has talked to a brewing company about the machine, but right now only one exists. Asked if he might start building some for sale, he said: "I'm keeping that option open, depending on interest."

When Cornwell was a student at Duke he participated in the engineering school's robotic basketball contests, said mechanical engineering Professor Bob Kielb. He said students tried to build a robot that could retrieve a pingpong ball and toss it into a small hoop.

"He always did well in it," Kielb said. "He came up with completely unique ideas."

And here's the video.

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August 18, 2006

Hope in our time

I believe in these difficult and mean-spirited times in which we live there needs to be a message of hope. Just a single image that speaks to us of love, harmony, peace and joy. An image that suggests the universal brotherhood of man. I have found that image, and I ask that all of you take a moment to be inspired by it. more...

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July 27, 2006

25 is a good age

Feel like celebrating a birthday? The Great American Beer Festival turns 25 this year, September 28-30 at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. This will mark my 8th pilgrimage to the holy festival during the last 9 years. I missed one year because my daughter was born that weekend which, I felt, was a pretty good reason to stay home. I didn't miss it 10 days after returning from my honeymoon, though, because my wife was fine with me going.

Am I a lucky man or what?

Anyway, if anyone's heading to Denver that weekend, I'd be glad to meet up for, umm, some beer drinking.

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June 19, 2006

American Beer month is almost here

But the party has begun early. Join in the celebration by celebrating Wheat Beer Week. And here is a list of some foods that go well with wheat beers:


The flavors of wheat beer go great with many foods, especially summertime fare. The classic pairing with spicy-fruity hefe-weizens is a bratwurst or a veal weisswurst, but it goes well with nearly any grilled or smoked food.

Try it with barbeque ribs, roasted vegetables or marinated pork chops. And speaking of grilling, American wheat ales are the perfect compliment to grilled fish, be it salmon, tuna or trout. Since it is summertime, don't forget the salads!

The clove-like accents of weizen make a perfect compliment to summer potato salad while wheat ales go great with a tangy, vinegar-based dressings. So for this weekend's cookout, try your favorite wheat beer with your own barbequed specialty.

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May 16, 2006

Proof that there is a God

My goodness, my Guinness wasn't just a slogan: it was a prophecy. Excerpt:


Drinking a pint of beer a day may stave off osteoporosis, scientists have said.

New research shows that the alcohol in beer appears to suppress the hormones that promote bone loss. And researchers say it may have a better effect on preventing bone loss than calcium.

I believe that I'll go home and protect my bones a bit tonight. Thanks to the Real Beer Blog for the link.

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