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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In the attempt to meet a certain important academic deadline, I haven’t been posting. I have
been brewing, and now that I’m back to blogging who knows what delights will appear in due course.
The post that takes me out of my hermit-like exile is devoted to a Saturday’s brew day at the brand new shed-brewery of my brewing associate Kevin, in Dublin’s north city. Poor Kevin finally has a shed of his own, which is the unalienable right of every man and woman interested in fiddling and tinkering with objects, and above all, brewing beer. It’s not a huge shed, and it’s an odd little shape, nonetheless it contains a brewery capable of boiling probably 80L, though we only brewed half that.
The Kit: The boiler and the Hot Liquor Tank are 100 litre pots that were sourced in France. I bagged one too, which I use as a fermentor. Kevin has taps on his, and they are both heated by quite impressive gas burners. The gas bottles live outside the shed, and with the window and door open there is no danger of any fume buildup. The mash tun is a picnic cooler with something like a 65L capacity. The transfer between the vessels is via a little 12v pump, a solid little workhorse despite its size! There is a vent that is happily situated right beside the boiler. In time I think this could be hooked up to a lid with a flexi pipe, to direct the boil off steam straight out of the shed.
For our brewday we made a simple stout, something along the lines of an “export strength” beer. We brewed 40L, our recipe was straightforward, if I remember correctly there was 12 KG of Pilsner Malt, 800 G of Roast Barley, 700 G of Chocolate Malt, and 500G of Black Malt. There may also have been a little crystal in there, I’m sure Kevin can fill us in in one of his “witty” comments. The Og was to be in the 70s somewhere. The water was treated with calcium chloride flakes, at least, it was the second time around. Kevin already had it measured out and dissolved in a pot of water, waiting to be added to the mash. I tipped it out because I thought it was just dirty water. That’s what happens when two people try to brew a beer.
The mash smelled incredible as usual. My favourite mashes are the really dirty looking ones where there’s heaps of dark malts, like this beer. The smell of chocolate, coffee, just general roastiness is almost irresistible. I wanted to scoop some out and eat it like porridge. We ran the wort off into the boiler, sparged, and added the second runnings, getting about 45 litres.
The brew took most of the afternoon, and in between waiting for this to heat up, or that to cool down, we played, at a rough estimate, 30 games of Pro Evolution Soccer 8 (Kevin has recently upgraded from PES06), getting through such classic matches as France vs Germany, Brazil vs Argentina, MUFC vs Chelsea, several “El Classicos” and of course, em, Sweden vs Denmark.
The beer was hopped with Northern Brewer, a mid strength hop which has quite a spicy smell. Around 80 G went in at the start, with a couple of additions towards the end of the boil. The beer should be around 70-80 IBU, which might sound like a lot, but the higher the strength of a beer the more it needs to be balanced by higher hopping, or else it can taste cloyingly sweet, even if it is 40 or 50 IBU on paper. This is especially true of big stouts.
We pitched some very fresh yeast that I had taken from an active fermentation only that morning. The stout had taken off by the following morning, so here’s hoping it ferments out well. The yeast was originally White Labs 028 (Edinburgh Ale), which I had cultured on to slants in the fridge.
All in all, an epic brew day, with the new setup performing extremely well!
**Special Edit!** I neglected, in this post, to mention the awesome cookies, not to mention the bean soup that Hazbo made us while we were fearlessly brewing. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my admiration for Hazbo, and add that she looked fantastic on saturday on her way out
on the lash with to meet some knitty types for cocktails and sushi. Knitters are clearly classier than brewers.
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
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
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.
I am a craftsman. At the moment the craft that occupies me most is brewing, but I am also obsessed with instrument building, and carpentry
in general. People look at a guitar and think “that must be difficult”, but I have built instruments and studied their construction closely, and to my mind it is the coopers that are the forgotten alchemists of wood. They take some rough oak, and without measurement or form they fashion a vessel that holds the same amount of liquid each time, and what’s more it holds liquid, without glue or any type of sealant. They judge by the wisdom of their eyes alone, they gouge and plane, they steam and bend. They hammer the iron hoops that hold the staves in place.
Brewing is a hobby of course. By day, and at times by night, I engage in far more sensible pursuits, I’m writing a PhD in philosophy. Ha! could there be a link between philosophy and cooperage? But of course. Diogenes, legendary Cynic lived in a barrel. Probably not a wooden one, but something more like a barrel shaped cellar. Nonetheless he has gone down in history as the man who lived in the barrel. Not only that but he used to masturbate in the marketplace, just to show his contempt for civil society. He is a personal philosophical hero of mine. The humble barrel has immense philosophical pedigree, as though its very form straddles the gulf between theoretical and practical reason!
But my extolling of the cooper’s virtue eventually relates back to brewing. Some brewing friends and I have decided to fill a whiskey barrel fully of extra strong stout, and age it in the oak for several months. to this end Peter and I visited our local distillery to purchase a barrel, which Peter promptly christened “Rotunda”. For the Dorty Foredners amongst you the name of one of the main maternity hospitals in Dublin is the Rotunda. Furthermore the Barrel has of course a pleasing, almost pregnant fullness to it, and as Peter pointed out it will soon give birth to a beautiful strong black stout, weighing in at about 10% abv.
The barrel is originally a Kentucky Bourbon barrel, US health and safety laws stipulate that food vessels cannot be reused. Bourbon barrels are used once and then sold to Europe, notably here and Scotland, for whiskey aging. The hold 53 US Gallons, or about 200L. That’s going to mean about 4 or so batches of stout, at least. Peter, Kevin and I are going to have to brew flat out to fill Rotunda.
The guy in charge of the barrel store was extremely helpful, and really friendly. When we told him we were brewers he said immediately “I’ll find ye a good one, just emptied”. We chatted to him about our plans for ages, and he was very encouraging. When we were there he was waiting for a truck to turn up to take the whiskey elsewhere for bottling, the barrels sat over a trough so they could drain fully before being filtered ofcharcoal and pumped into a large holding vessel. He took a glass and scooped it into the trough and we had a sip. It burned, but in a nice way. “Cask strength” he told us. “About 67%”.
We rolled Rotunda to the car. Oddly, the Renault Laguna seems to have been built with this barrel in mind. It fit perfectly in the boot! Oddly they’ve never based an advertising campaign around that. A busload of German tourists filed past as we were documenting this proud moment on film. The bus driver asked how much a barrel of whiskey cost. He seemed disappointed when we told him it was empty.
We took a tour (self guided) of the distillery. There were many similarities with a brewery, the mashing process for one seems identical. The old copper vessels also looked like we could have put them to good use!
When we got back to the car the smell was divine. I had images of the police pulling us over and as the window rolled down, the smell wafting out. “Honestly hofficer, it was empty when we got it!”
More updates when we manage to fill Rotunda up.