Brewing with My Pal, Murphy

Posted by Olan on 8/11/2014 at 04:48:07 PM

Yesterday was a much anticipated brewday for me - I would be tackling my roggenbier. I had done my homework, had listened to multiple horror stories about how sticky rye is, and had (I hoped) prepared for that.

And so, yesterday morning arrived. I had planned for this to be a solo brewday, but my good friend Murphy dropped by unannounced and decided to hang with me for the duration. If you are the sort of person who enjoys gawking at a train wreck as you drive past one, then by all means, please read on.

10:15 AM: It has become a weekly tradition that I fry bacon and my wife bakes blueberry muffins on Sunday morning. I usually heat my strike water on the stovetop to save on propane, but I figured it would be no issue to do so while cooking breakfast. However, my wife also decided to do hash browns this week, so I sat my pot to the side (there wouldn't be enough room for three large items on the stove). Minor delay here, no big deal.

11:10 AM: Breakfast is done. I take the lid off my six gallon stainless steel pot that serves as my HLT - and also does dual duty as storage for various brewing chemicals, smaller pieces of gear, etc. Why, hello there, disaster!

The bottom of the pot is covered in a sticky liquid. Plastic on my scale is discolored, a couple of baggies of brewing salts are essentially ruined. One of my star san lids had cracked and slowly dribbled acid into the bottom of my pot.

Fortunately, I had spares for the salts. Unfortunately, the bottom of my pot is a disaster. My O2 regulator (brass) is soaking in undiluted starsan, as are a few bottle caps. Dissimilar metals in an acid equals some really unique corroded spots on the bottom of the pot. PBW soak, scrub, scrub, rinse, scrub, scrub helps... but there's more there, and it's not coming off. The surface of the pot it noticeably pitted in a couple of places.

I break out some sandpaper, and that helps... but it's not perfect. I clean again, then use normally diluted starsan to help re -passivate the stainless (though as I understand it, this step is probably not necessary).

My wife ends up loading up the girls and leaving for some shopping. I have water warming in my now mostly okay pot. I bring up my mash tun (converted cooler) to rinse it out. Along with a couple of odd grain pieces (it seems that no matter how well I clean up, there are always a few), a small, reddish roach comes running out of the cooler like some dirty omen of what lies ahead. Yuck. I give the cooler an extra thorough cleaning and reassure myself that anything that happens in the cooler is preboil, anyway.

1:45 PM: I am finally mashed in. I've elected to start with only my rice hulls, rye malt, and rye flakes for the glucan rest. Supposedly, 98 F - 113 F is the temp range to rest at to ensure that the proteins responsible for gumminess get dropped out, with no damage to those that cause head formation and retention, but I don't want to take any chances. My target temp for this rest is 105 F, but I've overheated my water in my overzealous cleaning of Roachgate, so I have to stir and wait, stir and wait. I end up doing the rest at 110 F, which I figure it still in range... and I'm tired of wasting time. I'm already at least two and a half hours later in the day than I had wanted to be.

2:15 PM: 30 minute rest is complete, temps are holding at exactly 110 degrees F. I add the rest of the grains and stir; my three younger boys (ages six, four, three) come to help. Despite my best warnings, they are not very good at being careful as they stir.

This will become important later on.

All is well, so I pull around eleven quarts of thick mash and take it outside to start on the propane burner for my first decoction. I leave the lid on to speed the process; after all any DMS will be driven off during the main boil. The plan is to do a saccrification rest at 148 F, so I'll heat this portion to 150 or so, kill the heat and let it sit for 20 minutes or so before heating it up to boiling. I'll boil it for 40 minutes to get some nice melanoiden production, then add this portion back to my main mash in order to raise the temp of it to that same 148 or so.

Crap. It occurs to me that I added my campden and my brewing salts, but I forgot the lactic acid. I'm not too worried about it as I'm not into mash territory yet, but I will now have to eyeball the two portions of the mash. I grab a dropper and do just that, splitting my planned acid addition by feel.

2:45 PM: my decoction is at 138 F. As I have mentioned, I am behind schedule, so I decide that I need to not waste time. I run inside to grab my cooler and bring it outside, where it will stay for the remainder of the brewday.

My friend Murphy decides to lend a hand.

I am a stickler for keeping thorough notes, so I stop to update Beersmith. The three and four year olds are fighting; I step in to break them up. The three year old wants a cup of Kool-Aid; I get it for him. The four year old wants a Capri Sun; I get it for him. The Capri Sun doesn't have the normal design with a cherry; it has a stupid soccer player on it, so the four year old refuses to drink it. I get annoyed and coerce/threaten him into drinking it (it's the same flavor, we're not throwing it away)... and then, I panic.

I run outside, cooler forgotten, and check my decoction. It is now a balmy 182 degrees F. I kill the heat, run inside, fire up Google.

As best I can tell, I have screwed the pooch. The enzymes I needed in this portion of the mash are surely denatured at these high temps. Roughly 60% of my grist is composed of grains with low to no diastatic power... I *needed* those enzymes. But now, there is nothing to be done.

I decide to change my plans and adjust my main saccrification rest to 140 degrees F; this will really thin out the body (not necessarily a bad thing in a rye beer), but will hopefully give me every single possible iota of beta amylase for sugar conversion. I fire up the burner again, realizing that not only did I overshoot my temp, I have also managed to scorch some grain at the bottom of the decoction; there is now a solid layer of goop on the bottom of the pot.

I go back inside to check my math, and sure enough, I am not going to have enough diastatic power to convert everything. I do find one glimmer of hope in the process, though - supposedly, rye malt has a diastatic power of only 15, while it's commonly accepted that you need around 35 for self conversion. However, I know that some people do brew 100% rye beers... perhaps all is not lost? And hey, decoctions normally yield a little better efficiency than normal, right?


I go outside to check the decoction, and Murphy is laughing at me. The propane has run out.

I grab my keys and wallet and run down to the gas station to do a quick exchange, with Yakety Sax playing in my mind as I live through an episode of Keystone Kops: Brewing Edition.

4:10 PM: Forty minute decoction boil is done. I add this back to the main mash and discover that it's a good thing that I've decided to lower my rest temp for the main mash - it takes every bit of the decoction to get the overall mash temp above 140 degrees F. I stir thoroughly, end up with an overall temp of about 143 F, decide to just go with that.

4:35 PM: Normally, this wouldn't be worth a mention, but in a day where everything else seemingly went wrong, I want to mention one success. Ten or so minutes into the mash, I pull a sample for pH measurement. Since this is a darker beer, I've set a target mash pH of 5.51 (according to Bru'n Water). Lo and behold, my actual mash pH is 5.52. The angels sing.

I taste the hard shell at the bottom of my HLT; while it's super sticky and very difficult to work with, it doesn't taste bad. I decide that I need all the sugars I can get, so I add my sparge water directly to this caked on remnant and begin heating. Sure enough, the residue mostly dissolves. I now have brown sparge water waiting in the wings.

5:20 PM: I pull a second decoction (about nine quarts) to get me to a mash out. I consider skipping this step, seeing as how I'm comically behind schedule, but I know that rye is so hard to work with, and a mash out step supposedly makes things easier. I boil for ten minutes, return this to my main mash... and end up at 162 degrees F (noticeably below actual mash out temps). I swear a time or two, but there's no real feeling behind it; I find it hard to care. Oh well, let's vorlauf and drain.

6:10 PM: The first gallon drains just fine. After that, though, it gets really, really slow. I tilt the cooler, prop something under the end while I investigate. Scooping with my spoon helps, but only a little. Soon enough, I discover the culprit.

It's not the rye. Sure, the mash is a little sticky, but it's really not appreciably worse than any other beer. It's the fact that I have about a half inch of unsmashed hose braid - followed by eight inches of completely collapsed braid - that is the issue. I scoop, I dig, I swear, I burn my hands, but I finally manage to get a few inches more or less fixed and get a majority of the first runnings properly drained.

I carry my brown sparge water out and add it - realizing just after the pour that in the midst of worrying about the sugars, I have totally forgotten to add any chemicals whatsoever to the sparge water. Sigh.

Sparging is mostly like lautering was - it gets stuck again (thanks, collapsing braid). I dig with my spoon. I swear. I come up a bit short in volume, add a little more water to the cooler, collect it. I decide to add a little campden to the kettle in the hops that it might help, then just go with it. The boys come and toss in the first wort hops, and the boil process finally commences.

7:25 PM: I start cooking spaghetti as the boil is starting. I run back and forth for the next hour and a half.  Never has a pot of wort foamed like this - sure, they will typically flare up when you add hops, but that foam usually dies down. This batch will die down if I vigorously stir, but the moment I quit doing so, a good six inches of foam forms on top of the surface. I lose track of how many times I rinse the hop residue back down into the boiling wort by use of my spoon.

8:45: Spaghetti and boil are both done. I have undershot my boil volume - intended amount into the fermentor was five and a half gallons, I have almost five exactly. Screw it. I chill for a while outside via immersion chiller and hose, then bring the kettle inside to the sink, add some ice, and hook up the chiller there. Ground water is a balmy 78 degrees F, so this takes longer than I'd like, but I no longer care. I eat dinner, watch Mega Shark versus Crocosaur with the kids, then play a board game.

After mentioning my missed volume to my wife, she informs me that I should just plan to rebrew in two weeks, as too much has gone wrong for this to turn out.  I tell her to not give up hope until I take a gravity reading. 

11:15 PM: All of that worry over gravity does, in fact, turn out to be unfounded. My target gravity was 1.065; I measure 1.078 (temperature adjusted). When I dilute with a half gallon of water to hit my intended volume, gravity is still 1.071.   Murphy and his law can bite me. 

11:45 PM: Beer is in the fermentor. Aeration is done. Yeast is pitched. I got and set my ferm chamber (mini fridge) to 72 degrees (it had been on 1 degree for cold crashing my starter). Should have raised the temp before, as my pal Murphy has decided to help me one final time. I have a huge layer of frost on the freezer shelf - I literally cannot fit the fermentor and airlock inside. Grab a chisel, knock off some frost, get it in there.

12:15 AM: Cleanup is more or less done, teeth are brushed, I get the boys to bed. Brewday is finally finished.  I have every reason to believe that I'm going to have some great beer.

Batch Size (gallons)5.5
Recipe typeAll Grain
Style15D. Roggenbier (German Rye Beer)
Original Gravity1.065
Final Gravity1.012
ABV6.96% (basic)   /   6.97% (advanced)       [what's this?]
Color18.3 SRM
Boil Time60 min

YeastWhite Labs WLP300 (Hefeweizen Ale)

Rye Malt7 lbs47.5%4.7
Munich Malt3 lbs 8 oz23.7%9
Vienna Malt2 lbs 8 oz16.9%3.5
Rye, Flaked (toasted)1 lb6.8%10
Caramunich Malt 8 oz3.4%56
Carafa III 4 oz1.7%525

Perle (First Wort).5 oz608.5%13.2
Perle (Steep/whirlpool).5 oz208.5%3.6
Spalter (Steep/whirlpool)1 oz203.2%2.7

for complete recipe (with details like mash and fermentation temps), click here

Tags for this post: roggenbier, brewday, decoction, mash, homebrew, beer, mistakes, issues, errors

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Simultaneously the most entertaining and heartbreaking brew day recap I've ever read. You've got nerves of steel and ice water in your veins.

posted by Kevin Alexander on 8/13/2014 at 04:42:54 PM

Good thing you have your sense of humor. If you use that pitted kettle only as a HLT, it doesn't seem like the pitting would matter. The best investment you can make right now (while the pain is fresh) is in a spare propane tank.

posted by sdarji on 8/11/2014 at 09:24:32 PM

Tags for this post: roggenbier, brewday, decoction, mash, homebrew, beer, mistakes, issues, errors

Musings on Creativity and Brewing

Posted by Olan on 8/10/2014 at 03:27:32 PM


I've always been a bit envious of creative people.  Some people can take a blank canvas and a brush and bring a portrait to life.  Others can put pen to paper and spin a witty tale or clever verse.  Some can pick up a musical instrument and speak to your very soul with the songs they conjure.  Creative people can be found in so many different areas, bringing art and enrichment to lives of those around them.

I have never really been one of these people.

I, on the other hand, am more of a "logic guy".  I tend to be task based, compartmentalizing life in an effort to get from point A to point B.  That's not to say that I don't have certain skills; when dealing with a subject that interests me, I am thorough in preparation, I work to learn from the advice and experience of others, and I do diligently try to apply that knowledge to the job at hand.  That being said, I've always been the sort of person to follow a blueprint, to apply known techniques to a problem.  I can often see the big picture, and have been known to apply unique approaches to problem solving... but when push comes to shove, I have always been more analytical than creative.

Interestingly enough, brewing is one area in my life that I find this to not be the case.  Oh, to be sure, I am still very analytical in my approach; I take precise measurements, I...
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Tags for this post: creativity, brewing, homebrewing, beer, roggenbier, recipes

Conan Yeast Giveaway Winners

Posted by Olan on 8/05/2014 at 03:01:20 PM

After much adieu, I am happy to announce the winners of the Homebrew Dad ECY29 (Conan) yeast giveaway.

First off, please do allow me to thank everyone who entered. I said this before, but there were quite a few entries that legitimately deserved to win. Pruning the seventy-six entries down to the seven finalists was extremely difficult; further pruning those down to three winners was even harder.   If you'd like to see, there is a map representing all of the entries

Thank you to everyone who voted. All told, we ended up with a truly impressive total of one hundred and seventy-six votes cast, which is about twice what I was expecting given the number of participants.

To recap, my plan was to select one winner on my own, to allow the votes to select one winner, and to then compare the two lists to come up with a third winner. As it so happens, one winner not only jumped out as the most deserving to my way of thinking, but also happend to win the largest percentage of the votes - by quite a fair margin. That winner is Bret of Warsaw, Poland.

Bret did not submit a recipe idea; instead, his submission was that he would like to pick up the yeast when he returns to the US in a couple of weeks. He will then take the yeast back with him to Poland, where he will share it with other homebrewers there. According to...
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Tags for this post: yeast, giveaway, winners, contest, conan

Conan Yeast Giveaway Finalists

Posted by Olan on 8/01/2014 at 02:53:13 PM

After a week, we have received a whopping seventy-six entries to the ECY29 (Conan yeast) contest! If you'd like to see, there is a map representing all of the entries. I've done a lot of deliberating, and let me tell you - there were a *ton* of great ideas.

I pared down the list once, then pared it down again, and am now down to seven finalists.

If you did not make the list, please don't take it personally - I had a really difficult time narrowing down the finalists, and I had to leave out several entries that I feel that would have been worthy winners. It might sound cheesy or fake, but it's absolutely true that I would like to have given away even more vials. However, I had to draw a line somewhere; I simply can't afford to ship tons of yeast all around the continent.

Homebrewers, here is where you come in. Please cast your vote for your favorite idea of the finalists from the table below. Click the button next to their name, then click the "Process Vote" button at the bottom of the entry. No stuffing the ballot box, folks - one vote per person, please!  Also, please do note that comments to this blog post will not count as official votes - you must use the voting mechanism below.

I will personally select one winner from these finalists, and a second winner will come from the top vote getter. A combined method will...
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Tags for this post: finalists, homebrew, contest, yeast, Conan, ecy29, recipes, ideas

Review: Ruddles County Clone (Best Bitter)

Posted by Olan on 7/30/2014 at 04:00:03 AM


Today's beer review is one I have been looking forward to; it comes to us from my good friend Greg, of High Point, North Carolina.  Greg is an active member of the /r/homebrewing community, and goes by the screen name of /u/vinpaysdoc - give him a shout sometime!  Greg drove through Birmingham recently on the way to visit one of his kids at the University of Alabama, and was kind enough to swap beers with me (as well as hook me up with several vials of yeast).

Greg's beer is a best bitter - specifically, a Ruddles County Clone.  I haven't had the pleasure of trying this beer myself, though it's a real favorite of Greg's. 

This particular bottle spent a good week in my fridge prior to me taking it out for this review.  Since this is an English style, I did let it warm a good bit before I did the review (though it was probably still cooler than it would be served in a UK pub). 

You'll notice that this video is noticeably shorter than my first effort; I decided to do my actual sipping and note taking off camera in an effort to spare the viewer from my strange faces and long pauses.  The "uhs" and "ahs" are drastically reduced, for which I am proud.  I also feel like the sound quality is improved, thanks to my use of a directional mike - but beware, you will still hear my kids in a couple of spots.  Sadly,...
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Tags for this post: best, bitter, review, video, beer, homebrew, ruddles county, clone

The Winds of Change are Blowing at Homebrew Dad

Posted by Olan on 7/28/2014 at 08:10:29 PM


When I first created the Homebrew Dad website, the idea was pretty simple - I wanted a place to chronicle my own growth as a brewer.  I had this idea of sharing the steps that I took from complete and utter beginner to... well, to wherever I might take this hobby.

Along the way, the website has grown and evolved with me.  I learned that recipe sharing is a pretty big aspect of brewing; rather than post a recipe once, as most blogs do, I decided to set up a central repository to keep them in, which would allow me to embed the recipe again and again, and would also allow people a simple, convenient way to refer back to a given beer recipe.  I then had an idea about perhaps expanding that repository one day, so I set it up in such a way as to make the recipes fully searchable - for instance, if you had, say, Munich malt and wanted to see all of the recipes that I had posted that used it, you could do so with a simple search.

I became interested in some of the more technical aspects of brewing, and have always enjoyed programming.  I ended up creating a series of utilities - the priming sugar calculator, the ABV calculator, the beer calorie calculator, the grain and hop databases, etc.  Wherever possible, I have tried to keep an eye on scalability and flexibility for these, as well.

I set up an area of the site for...
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Tags for this post: homebrew, brewing, beer, community, forum, content

Announcing the Conan Yeast Giveaway!

Posted by Olan on 7/24/2014 at 03:54:33 PM


Conan yeast.  The "secret" ingredient behind Heady Topper - one of the most highly regarded beers in America.  The yeast has a unique, bready flavor profile, and is often described as having a honey-like finish.  Many homebrewers view this yeast as a Holy Grail type strain for IPAs, pale ales, and other hop forward beers.

The Conan yeast strain, commercially known as ECY29 (North East Ale), also has a deserved reputation as being difficult to obtain.  East Coast Yeast (manufacturer of the strain) does not yet have the manufacturing capabilities of the big boys (i.e. White Labs or Wyeast), and as a result, this popular yeast strain often sells out quickly. 

So, with that being said... how would you like a fresh vial of Conan yeast for the low, low price of *free*? 

Today, I'd like to announce the first ever Homebrew Dad yeast giveaway.  I have obtained a fresh container of ECY29 (special thanks to /u/GirkinFirker from reddit!), and will be spinning up a large starter for the sole purpose of sharing the love, so to speak.  Of course, odds are that there's no way I'll be able to harvest enough yeast to meet all of the potential demand from folks who'd like a free portion of a hard to find yeast. 

So, I'd like to make this interesting.  To be considered for a vial, please submit an idea for the beer that you would like to brew with the yeast.  I'll judge the ideas off of originality and general...
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Tags for this post: conan, yeast, ecy29, contest, giveaway, beer, homebrew

Review: American Dream Pale Ale

Posted by Olan on 7/22/2014 at 08:36:57 PM

Our very first homebrew review comes to us from Isaac of Leesburg, Florida. Isaac and his buddy Matt both brewed up American pales ales for the 4th of July, and have been kind enough to share them with me.

Isaac's beer - titled "American Dream: Ryes of a Nation" - is actully the brainchild of his wife, Amy. Amy had the idea of a recipe with the desired result of "a piece of bread soaked in rye beer, with orange or tangerine notes". Isaac has been brewing for several years, so he helped oversee which ingredients woudl help provide the intended result, but this was Amy's baby.

I chilled the bottle for about 48 hours prior to my review in the hopes of making sure that any shipping sediment had settled nicely. I took the bottle out of the fridge a good 10-15 minutes prior to filming, then shot the entire review in one take. I used one of my custom pint glasses for this beer, which I gave a thorough salt scrub and multiple rinses to prior to the review.

A few notes about the filming itself - I would call this an unever effort overall. Even though I waited until late at night, then went off alone in the kitchen, you coudl still hear my three younger boys from two rooms away. I ran the round through some noise reduction, which cut some of that out - and made the sound pretty tinny in the process - but...
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Tags for this post: hombrew, review, American, pale ale, rye

Delicious Spent Grain Bread

Posted by Olan on 7/17/2014 at 03:47:43 PM

It has become a required ritual that I bake bread with the spent grains from brewing my beer.  Of course, the final flavor varies a bit due to the variances in my grain bill for the beer in question, but by and large, I end up with a dark, chewy bread that compares favorably with any nice restaurant appetizer.  Expect a nice crusty outside with a moist center.

3 cups spent grain (finely chopped in food processor to cut down on pieces of husk in your teeth) 1/3 cup of water 1/4 cup sugar 6 cups all purpose flour 2 tsp salt 1 egg (beaten) 1/4 cup milk 1 packet dry bakers yeast honey to taste Instructions:
mix yeast, water, and sugar in a bowl to activate your yeast. Use warm - not hot - water (maybe 100 degrees F). Allow 30 minutes for yeast to activate. Add your yeast starter, egg, salt, spent grain, and milk in a large mixing bowl, along with the bulk of your flour.
Mix this up well, adding flour until you reach a consistency that allows you to handle the dough with floured hands without it sticking to you like crazy. You may end up with more or less flour than called for above, depending on the humidity and such. Add honey to taste. I typically add 1/4 to 1/2 cup. knead...
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Tags for this post: spent, grains, bread, grain, bread recipe, baking, beer, beer bread

Taking a Walk on the Hop Side - My First IPA

Posted by Olan on 7/08/2014 at 10:57:01 PM


As you may have gleaned from my post history, I'm a big fan of malty beers.  By and large, I just don't seem to really enjoy beers that venture far into to the bitter side of the balance. 

I know, I know.  I must be one of a very few homebrewers who doesn't worship at the alter of the IPA.  I've tried numerous commercial IPAs, but almost every single time, I have found them to be too bitter for me to really enjoy.  As far as that goes, even most pale ales are more bitter than I like.

Go ahead, insert your girlie-man jokes here.  At a time when the craft beer industry is seemingly in a race to see which brewery can roll out a hopwater product that can melt your teeth enamel through sheer bitterness the quickest, my beer tastes seem fairly quaint.  I have continued to sample various IPAs, and while they don't always gross me out as quickly as they once did, I just have not managed to develop a taste for them.

That is, until April of this year, when I ended up meeting Greg Ellis, a brewing buddy from reddit.  We exchanged several bottles each; one of Greg's beers was a Citra DIPA.  I'll admit that it worried me, but I gave it an honest shot... and lo and behold, it was delicious!

This beer balanced to the bitter side, yes, but only mildly so.  It had plenty of hop flavor, however, and the citrusy aroma was...
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Tags for this post: IPA, hop, hops, bitter, English, English IPA, homebrew, brewing

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