Category Archives: equipment

Ikea trial jar!


Homebrewers! Jazz up your homebrewery with this stunning trial jar* from Ikea! Made from hand blown glass!

*for some reason they market it as a ‘vase’, but it is a trial jar, rest assured.



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New Fermentor

My new keg fermentor

A quick little post about my new favourite piece of equipment, a keg used as a simple stainless steel fermentor, and no that’s not a spelling mistake. Apparently a fermentor is the vessel where the fermentation takes place, while a fermenter is the agent that performs the fermentation, i.e. little yeasts. Anyway this one was simple: there was a stray 30L keg that someone was trying to get rid of, so I obliged, I removed the spear (with a little difficulty, owing to a kind of safety ‘catch’ that meant it did not simply unscrew), I gave it a good wash out, and I popped an oversized rubber carboy cap on it. This is a size larger than the standard one that fits over a 20L carboy, and I picked it up in a lovely little homebrew shop; Edina Homebrew in Edinburgh when I was passing there last year. Luckily it fits perfectly. Now I have a lovely little 30L, steel, airtight vessel for my smaller (20-25L) brews.

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Micro Alt in Düsseldorf


So there I was, in the Rhein und Ruhr Megalopolis last week to give the Germans a piece of my mind, at a philosophy conference in beautiful Bonn. Of course the area is well known for two of Germany’s more interesting beers, Kölsch from Köln, and Altbier from Düsseldorf, neither of which is a lager as commonly conceived (at least, they are not fermented with Saccharomyces pastorianus which is responsible in part for the familiar taste that many lagers have, although they probably are Lagered, that is, stored at cold temperatures after primary fermentation is complete, just as most modern beers are.) which is nice to see, not that I didn’t enjoy a couple of perfectly good glasses of Stauder Pils, the local beer in Essen, where I was staying.

On my final day, Sunday, we ventured in to Düsseldorf before I flew home in the evening, and as seems to always be the case in German towns I visit, they were having a big party in the city centre. We mingled around the bustling squares, there was some sort of “Jazz Marathon” afoot, and plenty of music. We ate Thuringer bratwurst, and sampled fine altbiers from the iconic Uerige, from Frankenheimer, and  Schlüssel at least, probably Diebels, and I may be leaving some out. Just as in Köln where we saw them filling the little 20cl glasses of Kölsch from a fast pouring tap, 20 or so at a time without turning off the tap, the stand outside the Uerige brewery had a simple cask up on the table, when one ran out, they hoisted another up, slammed in an old style tap and hammered what I presumed was some sort of spile in to the top, and the tap was opened and I didn’t see it shut off while I was there at least. One barman poured and the other served.

A Barrel of Alt

My favourite alt of the day was one from a small microbrewery, the Kürzer Brauerei, on Kurze Strasse, which


only had a 2000L capacity, although from what I could see it had a pretty hi tech setup. It was a real microbrewery, the brewing gear was in the back of the slightly industrial, functionally furnished bar, it wasn’t behind glass, but merely roped off. The alt was tasty, it was malty and well hopped, similar to Uerige which I think is the bitterest of the well known varieties. It may even have been more hopped still.

I asked could I poke around, no problem I was told. In fact, I had a good chat with the friendly young barman, who I took for an Australian but who in fact had grown up in Papua New Guinea. At least he took my Australian comment as a compliment.

The setup was very interesting. As far as I could make out, the beer was brewed as normal, except I think they harvested the c02 from fermentation. It was secondaried in conicals at roof height I guessed, and then passed through a rather large plate filter. At this stage the barman wasn’t sure of the procedure, “I only sell it” he told me. What he could tell me was that they didn’t use kegs, instead there was a rather large (I would estimate 200L) horizontal tank suspended from the roof near the bar, and the beer was fed from that to a glass container that refilled automatically, and had an adjustable level sensor. It looked a bit like one those things that has margherita mix or something like that in some bars, you can make it out in the picture, as well as the holding tank. So as far as I could see, the beer was probably filtered and recarbonated with the harvested c02 in one of those smaller tanks, then pumped to the holding tank at the bar, where it fed by gravity to the glass serving vessel, which then poured by gravity also. There was no external serving gas used.

Holding tank top-left, serving yoke bottom-right.

The bar was only open since October, I don’t know if they had been brewing before that. The friendly barman was delighted with this system, they didn’t need to use kegs anymore, so no more lifting for him. They Also owned a bar down the road, and the one directly across the street. “We still fill kegs for the bar down the road” he told me, but the bar across the street is equipped with a similar serving system. “We just use a giant hose to fill it from here!” he told me.


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Mini Monster Mash

Since I built my large 50L coolerbox mash tun, I have often struggled to make beers in less than 20L batches, especially when they are not strong, this is because my mash tun doesn’t work very well unless I use about 7KG of grain. But from time to time I want to mash a smaller amount, for brewing an experimental beer, or perhaps a starter beer in 5-10L batches. Here is my quick and dirty solution. It cost very little to make, and it took me about 30 minutes.

Do the Mini Mash!

I simply cut a small hole in a 8 or 10L food grade bucket which previously held bird seed. I attached a ball valve tap to a brass threaded compression fitting, with a washer on the inside. I stuck a short length of copper pipe hammered flat at one end, with slots cut along its length (it was a bit from an old mash tun). I cut and wrapped a foam mat around the outside and attached it with silver gaffer tape, this is for insulation. I reckon it will be good to mash anything from 1-3KG. Now to mini-mash a starter beer!


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Two New Brewing Techniques

I was recently reprimanded by one of my viewers (Herr Doktor Kev!) for letting my blog descend into too many introspective beer reviews, with not enough brewing info, and perhaps that’s true. So here is some news from the coalface of my recent brewing toil, a couple of new techniques that I tried out at the weekend.

New techniques, well, new to me anyway; but why? Well I love all sorts of beers, but two types stand out. The first is the big Trappist style dark rummy beers, beers like Rochefort 10 that I have eulogised elsewhere. The second beer that I just want to come back to all the time is the ever popular big American IPA. Beers from Dogfish Head, Stone, Sierra Nevada,  and some of my recent favourites, a cedar aged IPA from Cigar City, Odell’s IPA which I thought was my favourite until I recently tasted Anderson Valley “Hop Ottin”, and now I’m not so sure.

But these last three have something in common which my own brews have been missing. I have managed to get the big aromatic juicy hop character that I love, like in one of my favourite of my own recent beers Randy Williams, but what eluded me was a character that they share in body. It is important to balance hoppy beers with enough malt character so that you don’t just get a thin and bitter beer. What these three lovely IPAs have is a sort of toffee sweetness. It’s not just caramel of the type that some English beers have, but real toffee, like one of those chewy sweets was dissolved in it. I have read that this sort of flavour can be caused by direct fired kettles that have hot patches near the bottom that scorch some of the wort on the way in, caramelising it and causing the lovely toffee flavour, but my boil kettle is electric, what to do? The first of my two techniques then, is an attempt to get this effect, and it involves taking a certain

Boil a few litres of the first wort collected to try and get that toffee flavour!

amount of the early (and thus strongest and most sugary) wort from the mash tun, and boiling it vigorously in order to reduce, concentrate and caramelise it. I took 3L of wort and set the largest gas ring to full, and in the space of about 30 minutes I reduced it to 1L on the stovetop. I waited and added it back in to the kettle just before the end of the boil in the hope of keeping some of the flavour. I tasted a little, and it was very concentrated, but definitely tasted of toffee. It’s all fermenting now so I live in hope.

The second technique is a technique commonly used by commercial brewers , especially in America, and it’s called whirlpooling. I was inspired to try it out by the homebrew guru Jamil Zainasheff, on his Mr. Malty page. Basically it is a way of chilling the boiled wort as quickly as possible, with as much wort movement as possible so as to minimise the risk of too much hop acid isomerisation, which would make the hop oil less aromatic but rather contributing more bitterness. I have worried lately that my late hop additions, such as at 5 minutes and even at the knockout have just failed to live up to expectations when I come to taste the finished product. I want the aroma to jump out and grab you like it does in those American beers I mentioned.

The basic method involves chilling the wort via an immersion chiller as I have always done, whereby cold tap water is run through a copper coil that acts as a basic heat exchanger, heating up as it passes through the hot wort and transferring the heat from the wort to the running water, thus cooling the wort. On top of that for added cooling speed and efficiency the wort is transferred from the tap back in to the top of the kettle via a small (but mighty) 12v pump, available from this very helpful gentleman. These small pumps are

Cooling setup- Green hose for the immersion chiller. Blue tubing for the pump (it's the tiny cream coloured thing attached to the small plank of wood)

cheap, food grade, and heat tolerant. The benefit to hop aroma is explained by Jamil on his site

With a counter flow or plate chiller, you let the bulk of the wort sit at near boiling temperatures while you chill a small amount. Sitting at near boiling will continue to isomerize the hop acids and drive off the volatile oils that good hop aroma and flavor depend upon. A number of folks have noticed that hop aroma decreases on switching from an immersion chiller to a counter flow This is the reason. By contrast the whirlpool immersion chiller knocks enough heat off of the entire wort in the first minute or two to retain that beautiful hop character. If you’re going to use a counter flow or plate chiller, better buy yourself a hopback.

So those two techniques are my latest attempt to brew a big American IPA with the beautiful hop aroma tempered by toffee sweetness that I love so well. The fermenter smells incredible, but only time will tell whether the difference is noticeable. For anyone who is interested, here is the recipe I brewed. I went with Columbus, a big, spicy aromatic hop, paired with Cascade for citrus sweetness. I loosely based it on brew365’s recipe for the aforementioned “Hop Ottin”

“Columbus IPA” : 30L : OG 1.073 : 7% ABV : 74 IBU : 13 SRM

Malts: 7KG Pale Malt, 1KG Munich Malt, 1KG Crystal Malt (55L), 300G Wheat Malt

Hops: 60 mins: 35G Magnum, 20 mins: 30G Columbus, 40G Cascade, 10 Mins: 40G Cascade, 5 Mins: 35G Columbus, Whirlpool: 35G Columbus, Dry Hop: 70G Cascade

Yeast: Wyeast West Yorkshire

Other Notes: Mash at 66c for 60 minutes. Boil for 60 minutes. First 3L of wort runoff was vigorously reduced on the stovetop to 1L and re-added just before the knockout. Whirlpool during immersion coil wort chilling.


Filed under Beer, equipment, Hops, Recipe

Cantillon Brewday

Old Bottles on an Old Bottler

Each november, and also sometime in spring, the Cantillon brewery, which is also a designated museum throws open its doors for a day, so that hoardes of geeks can flood in, and ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ over mash tuns, bubbling barrels, coolships and cobwebs. I visited them once before, but they weren’t brewing. It was still great fun to wander around and check the place out, but this time it was a lot more fun. Cantillon is unlike other breweries, as it only brews ‘lambic’ or spontaneously fermented beer. They don’t add extra yeast. More about that later.
The brewday starts early, and so at about 6am, Kev and I found ourselves traipsing down Anspachlaan towards Anderlecht with an appropriate lack of spring in our step. It pissed rain all weekend. Brasserie Cantillon looks just like a normal building on a suburban 19th century Anderlecht street, from the outside you could have no inkling what magic lies inside.

The place was already a hive of activity even at that early hour. People huddled with coffee and croissants, and a little stove in the tasting area was burning away. We latched on to one of the tours that were going at regular intervals, and made our way in to a room that contained a mash tun, with magnificent rotating stirring arms plughing their way through the turbid mash, which was in the process of being doughed in. You could see the wetted mixture shooting through a pipe in to the tun from upstairs. The place was a hive of whirring and trundling motors, and one of the few modern encroachments on the traditional brewery was that most of the moving parts were attached by a belt to a central motor that is now electric, but presumably was once steam powered.

Making our way upstairs we had a good gawk in to the empty boil kettle, which appeared to be steam driven, at least, it

Inside the copper

had some large copper coils at the bottom. Continuing in to the attic, we saw the coolship that would be put to use at the end of the brew day. The tour concluded in the barrel storage area, where 1, 2 and 3 year old lambic beer was aging. Some of the barrels were even oozing foam, which looked great.

We also had a good look at the barrel washing area, where the barrels were being steamed clean. One of them was attached to some big gyrating frame like the thing astronauts use to train for g-force or something.

We had a little taste of some of the beer, since it’s one of the few times that drinking at 7am is socially acceptable. I tried a blend called “cuvée Gilloises” or something to that effect, probably after the neighbouring district of Saint Gilles. It was lovely. We decided to return to our womenfolk who were sensibly snoring back at the apartment.
Later on in the day we returned, hoping to catch the final, crucial stage of the brew. After a very long boil, like any other beer, lambic beer needs to be cooled. Although most homebrewers use something like an immersion chiller where cold water is circulated through a copper coil that is immersed in the hot wort, and most commercial brewers use a plate chiller, where the beer is pumped through plates that have cold water pumped on the other side in the reverse direction, the traditional method of cooling beer is to use what is called a “coolship”. This is basicaly a very large surfaced shallow copper container, in Cantillon’s case it takes up the whole loft room. The hot wort is flooded in to the coolship, which spreads it over as much surface area as possible, and since copper conducts the heat away so well, the beer cools down gradually. One of the reasons that commercial breweries for the most part no longer use this method is that it involves leaving a large surface area of warm wort exposed for several hours, and during that time, before it is cool enough to pitch the yeast in to, it is ripe for infection by wild airborn yeasts.

Steaming Barrels

This is a boon for lambic brewers however, since they want those wild airborne yeasts, indigenous to the locality to innoculate the wort. At Cantillon, millions of colonies of these yeasts inhabit the very rafters of the brewery. They don’t steam clean the place, rather they let the friendly spiders take care of insects that might harm the beer, and there are some fairly impressive cobwebs in the place.

The room with the coolship was full of steam, and hard to see.

Watching the wort flood in to the coolship was almost a religious experience, indeed, you could view the mystical transformation that the wort undergoes the night after brewing, sitting in that Anderlect attic, as the brewing equivalent of the metaphysical transubstantiation of wine into the blood of the redeemer. Tastier end product though.

Awesome Cobweb

Having borne witness to the magic, we retired to the tasting area, to avail of our complimentary glass of unblened lambic, blended Gueuze, kriek, and my favourite, Rosé de Gambrinus, which is lambic beer blended with raspberries. We took a bottle of “Mamouche” back to the apartment, which, while nice, only confirmed my suspicion that I don’t really like elderflowers. Unfortunately they were out of “Fou’Foune”, which is lambic steeped with apricots. I still haven’t had a chance to try this. Cantillon open brew day is a great excuse to visit the bizarre and wonderful city of Brussels, to drink Lambic beer at 7am, and to see where the magic really happens. I feel this might become an annual pilgrimmage.


Filed under Beer, Brewery, equipment, Yeast

A Barrel Full of Imperial Stout

Rotunda, Mallet, Ex-Bung

It’s the end of a long journey for our Kentucky bourbon barrel, ‘Rotunda’, and the 175L or so of Imperial Stout that Peter, Kev and I have brewed over the last month or two, a beer that is absolutely delicious even at this early stage, and which is collectively known as ‘Diogenes’. Read the two earlier installments of our audacious barrel project here (getting the barrel) and here (brewing the beer)

Rotunda started life at "Early Times", Kentucky

We all did our bit, and finally the day came where Kev and I drove from North County Dublin to Kildare, with 100L of the blackest stout in history sloshing about on the back seat. Needless to say we drove carefully. It was the day of the All Ireland Final, also notable for a Dimitar Berbatov hattrick against Liverpool. Even though the lads are Man Utd fans, this did little to distract us. Our minds were focussed on the culmination of our Barrel Project. They said we were crazy when we ordered an insane amount of Malt from England. They said it would never work when we told them we were going to brew enough super-strength stout to fill the 200L barrel. But now we’ve done it and the beer will sit there for the coming months, hopefully

One massive box, two carboys, several 20L beer bags, and a corny

undergoing a silent transformation, fusing with the white american oak from our barrel, originally from the Early Times distillery in Kentucky, fusing with the Cooley distillery’s whiskey that aged in it before our beer.

All three of us had been anticipating some degree of mayhem, delivering all that beer into what is already a very heavy barrel surely has its dificulties? Thankfully not, since the day went off without a hitch. This compares very favourably to the last brewday that Kev and I shared, where we perhaps bit off more than we could chew, trying to mash 30KG of grain in a massive plastic barrel. First of all we didn’t get near our mash temperature, it stayed at 55. With the introduction of steam we managed to raise this to 62, still very low. Then the manifold at the bottom of the bucket jammed, and the thing wouldn’t drain. We ended up having to scoop the mash out into smaller more reliable mash tuns, and drain it as best we could. I had to leave at that point, but Kev was to experience further misery, one of the elements on his boiler decided to give up half way through. The blackest brewday I have ever known, I’m still getting over it. Credit to Kev though, he managed to get close to his target OG, and only slightly under the volume he had been aiming for.


Peter had already checked that the barrel was watertight before we got there, and in fact, it was still damp with whiskey from months ago when we got it at the Cooley Distillery. The smell was still incredible. We mixed 20L of starsan, and rolled the barrel up and down the path to slosh the starsan around a bit, although this was probably unnecessary since the whiskey was clearly still coating and soaked into the inside of the barrel. Cask strength is much higher than bottle strength, I think I remember the man at Cooley telling us it was in the mid sixties ABV, surely enough to keep most infectious beasties at bay.

A complex medical procedure

We rolled the barrel into the shed and propped it up on a couple of bricks, to raise it a little for when we come to siphon out of it. We began to siphon, this is when I had anticipated difficulty, but it was all fine, we were even able to siphon several of our vessels at once. We tasted some of our beers side by side, there were subtle differences, we then tasted a mixture of all three, and it was superb. The trub (the yeast and other gunk left behind by fermentation) was absolutely revolting, smelled awful, and was thick and gooey. Here’s a picture of some of it on Peter’s finger. Yeuch.

almost full

And that was that. I hammered in the bung (that we had pre drilled to accept an airlock, in case any extra CO2 was produced, and now all we have to do is wait. We may remove a little before christmas, and the rest a little later.

Bung is in



Filed under Beer, equipment, The Barrel Project, Uncategorized