with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beer engine happiness.

I suffer from chronic nostalgia when beer is concerned. I absolutely love beer engines and the velvet beers they dispense, even though I only had my first pint of cask about 5 years ago. But in my mind I've been an old flat-capper for decades. This is why I had to buy a beer engine from the internet.

Ebay is a fantastic source of everything. I got mine about two years ago, from some pub somewhere or something. I don't know. About £40 delivered, anyway. It worked fine for a year (that's about 3 brews), before it started pumping more beer out from the piston seal than it did from the spout. I finally ordered a new seal set for it last week.

Seal kits are a little expensive. I'd say about the same as their weight in gold. Crap for a few bits of rubber. But they are very unique bits of rubber, and at £28 delivered, you'll soon realise you'll make the money back in sheer joy at not having to wipe the carpet after every pour.

I'm not going to go mad on the detail here, but hopefully the following pictures will help you see what's inside of a Higene beer engine.

The key is to put it back together EXACTLY as you took it apart. Take photos or draw or arrange neatly on a table. Mostly it's fairly simple, but the cylinder needs some care.

If you buy one new and it's not working great, then force some water into it (with a hosepipe is best), and let that sit for a while to loosen up the rubber seals a little. You might find it works fine. You'll still want it taken apart and cleaned. You'll see why when you do it.

  I've replaced the pipe from the top of the cylinder with a 3/8" JG to 3/8" stem (elbow) and a shorter piece of braided hose. It works much better than the bit of kinked hose, and the original hose was black with age.
 Washer Left; curved edge facing down/trench upwards, second washer (big & brown) above that, kept in place by the third washer, and the fourth just floats somewhere up the piston rod. I bought the seal kit and was horrified to see that the brown washers start life transparent. 
 These pictures really aren't in any order.

If yours isn't pulling a full measure, then adjusting the thing in the picture above will sort it out, after a little trial and error. Or just pull another bit out.

The key is to swear a lot when putting it back together.

When fixing it to your bar (what do you mean you don't have a bar?) it will be quite rough on whatever the bar top is made of. Not in a scratchy way, but in a "if your bar top is not nailed down properly it's coming off" kind of way. Also, it only goes half -way on, so cutting a slot out of your bar top will support it better, but it's not strictly necessary. I'll post some pictures of my bar towards the end of summer.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Eyes on the prize... Yeast handling

What's that thing you say about wise men, or the more you know the more you whatever? Well, the same applies in brewing. I've spent the last four years honing my brew kit, my mash efficiency, bottling and kegging, recipes and above all else speed, or brewday efficiency. I'm getting the hang of it now, I think. However, one thing still stands in my way; taking good care of my yeast.

My process has been honed over the years, as I've improved my recipe design, mashing, boiling, hop additions and all the processes in between and after (bottling and kegging, serving temp, condition). The intermediate step, fermentation, is all down to the yeast. Mishandled yeast can, at best, behave a little odd, throw out some unusual flavours, or take a while to start or stop. Sometimes a poorly treated yeast will give you some bad flavours and aromas. I've got to the point now where that kind of thing is no longer tolerable, and it's apparently bad form to blame the yeast. Acetaldehyde (green apples), Diacetyl (butterscotch), solvents (pear drop esters at best, nail polish remover at worst) phenols (smokiness or pepperiness) and some rubbery aromas if allowed to die and disintegrate in the wort.

So, in the same way as I developed my other brewing skills, I'm now paying some close attention to my yeast. I do have a microscope, but haven't been able to use it properly yet, as I can't get hold of Haemocytometer plates. Nevertheless:

1: Pitching rates- at it's simplest, for a standard strength ale (up to SG. 1060) a single sachet of dried brewers yeast will work fine. For a lager, buy two. They're not expensive. Rehydration can take place before, or by addition to the cooled wort. Rehydration advice found here: http://www.fermentis.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/SFA_S04.pdf

For wet yeast (actually called liquid yeast, but whatever) I believe one vial treated well will work for a standard strength ale, and again cough up for two if you're brewing a lager, but preparing a starter is the best treatment here.

Repitching yeast from a previous batch can help reduce the cost of buying two or more sachets or a vial. Depending on how fussy the yeast, or how obvious it will be in the final beer, I'll either pitch straight onto the yeast cake in the fermenter, or scoop some out (in a sanitary manner) for use later.

2: Temperature- best not to pitch while too hot, or to have a temperature jump from yeast temperature to wort, or large fluctuations in temperature during fermentation (with the exception of a specific fermentation profile, like crash cooling, Diacetyl rests or increasing temperature for Belgian style beers or for attenuation). Also, keep the beer at a suitable temperature for the beer. Warmer temperatures tend to create more esters, while cooler fermentations, though slower, produce a cleaner beer.

Most beers ales are fine fermented between 16 and 20 degrees C, but do check. Also, picking yeast best suited to your actual ambient temperatures can work. WLP029 Kolsch yeast is a warm lager yeast, fermenting a clean beer at ale temperatures, and I've got Nottingham to work quite well at quite low temperatures.

3: Style- pick a yeast suited to the beer style brewed. I'm spending a few extra euros for wet yeasts, of which there is a much wider variety. Spending more money on Saaz and brewing water adjustments, pilsner malts and making space in the fridge is a waste without the perfect yeast for the job*. That's not to say that good beers can't be brewed with other yeasts, of course. Stout brewed with Belgian yeast, IPA with Brett,

My next step is to make a stir plate, and aquire some Erlenmyer flasks in order to make some starters a few days in advance. I've bought a pressure cooker to sterilise wort in jars, and then I'll feel I've really got the hang of brewing.

*And for this prize of which I mention in the title, the yeast is Vermont IPA yeast (Conan). This is being fermented warm in my specially designed fermentation chamber (which has cost about a tenner to make from begged stolen and borrowed gizmos). The beer is an America IPA for the Galway brewer's competition. It didn't make it in, after all, but I enjoyed drinking it, I suppose.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sluggish Hop Plants

If your hop plant isn't really taking off already, for example the buds are still at ground level, check the soil for Vine Weevil larvae. These small white grubs, about the size of a two cent coin, eat through the roots around the main plant, and leave your plant struggling to grow. I found 25 in one pot. One is too many.

The pictures below are of the larvae and of the damage that they do. They leave behind a light orange sawdust, and severed rhizomes.

To check your hop:
1 - give the stump a wiggle. If it's loose then you probably have a problem.
2 - Dig around the plant. It won't mind. It knows it's for the greater good. They're really easy to spot, bright white against the soil. They will mostly be within the top inch or two (deeper if you mulched like a good boy/girl).
3 - If you find any, do your best to dig around the whole plant where the soil feels loose and pick them all out. Destroy them by squashing or drowning.
4 - While you're there, pick out anything else that isn't a worm. Leatherjackets (weird fleshy brown tubes, the larvae of Daddy Long Legs), slugs and millipedes (the black ones).
5 - check the soil before you put any back, or better still, replace it with fresh compost.

Do it now while the hop is still feeding on it's rootstock. Don't worry about little white roots.

Fundamental critter rule: If it's slow, it's got to go. If it's fast, ... something something last.

It's April 4th, and most of my hop plants are putting out bull-shoots and several other smaller shoots, so the ones that are struggling are pretty conspicuous in their sluggishness. Check them or you'll get no hops.


Vine Weevile Larvae. AaaaaarGH!

If you have them in one pot, you're likely to have them in all. Check! They seem to prefer pots to plants in the ground, so far...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hop Plant Bull Shoots

It's the time of year when hops start having big ideas again. Two sunny days and they're OFF!

You may have heard about 'trimming the first gamey shoots', or 'removing the bull shoots' and not been clear which they are. Well, here's a photo.

The bull shoot is about 6 inches long where the others are barely an inch. In this photo, of a second year First Gold, there are two bullshoots that are both over half a foot. After this photograph was taken I cut them back to ground level in order to let the others grow. Eventually I will select only two or three of these to grow on, and snip back the rest.

Bull shoots are no good as the internodal distance, or gaps between the leaves are quite large. Seeing as the cones are produced here, in order to get a higher yield you need more nodes, which you get in the later shoots.

For now though, that is all you need to do with the hops. The second set of shoots will grow at a steadier pace, so you've nothing more to do this week.

Next job: Putting the bines to string.
For more information on hop growing, visit:
This picture was taken on 3rd April.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Judging at the National Homebrew Club competition

It's a tough job but someone's got to do it!

1st March, St. David's Day, and I've to catch the 0430 bus to Dublin. It's a long trip down, but it's the last in the series of my journey to becoming a judge. It's been emotional.

The last beer before lunch.
The day started with registration; getting your name badge and picking what you want for lunch. I was asked to judge category 10A, American Pale Ales, so sat down at a table next to Sarah, owner of the new N17 brewery in Tuam. It was a pleasure to judge alongside Sarah, who certainly knows her stuff. We were within 2 or 3 marks on all beers, so allocating a score was fairly straightforward.

Once we'd judged our flights, a total of 9 beers, I think Sarah went and found the Stout table and I settled amongst the American IPAs - as if I hadn't already had all the hops I could take!

The judging was quite easy in terms of picking which beers suited the style more than others, but filling in all the spaces was a little tricky on some scoresheets. I hope the information I put in is useful to the brewers.

After that I sat down to clear my palate and head for the mini Best Of Show round, which took place once all the category 10 beers had been judged. That left me and Ronan about 18 beers to sort through and pick the best.

Sorting through 18 beers to quickly asses which deserves to go through to the Best Of Show in Cork was like drinking 18 shots of beer. The aul head was spinning by the end of it.

As bus o'clock drew rapidly nearer, the silver medal in category 1 was announced, and it was me! A quick gulp of champagne, a handshake or two and I ran off out the room, up the street with a big grin on my face!

I had a fantastic time. The taxi driver who took me to the bus at 4am asked me if I was getting paid for judging, or even getting travel allowances. To be honest, with all those lovely beers, people and the craic, I'd nearly consider paying for the privilege of judging again. Thanks to Renier, our steward, as well as all the other stewards who helped us in the miniBOS.

What a day.

Interested in being a part of Ireland's biggest homebrew community?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

One Step Closer

This morning I passed the BJCP online exam. It's a 200 questions in 1 hour exam, with questions usually about style comparisons, or what elements you'd expect in a beer style.

I answered all the questions, although I'm quite sure not all of them were right. The Multiple Choice Multiple Answer questions were tricky enough.

To celebrate I'm drinking a small glass of under-carbonated and under-attenuated Irish Red Ale, which clearly demonstrates that good at theory is not good at practice.

Nevertheless, I'm now a Provisional Judge, ready to take the tasting exam in Dublin this weekend.

What does one wear to a tasting exam, when it coincides with a Welsh-Irish 6Nations rugby match...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Happy New Year again.

This must be my fourth or fifth new year as a homebrewer by now.

First, thanks to anyone who got in touch this past year to leave comments or ask questions. I hope I was helpful, and will try to do more of the same this year. To that end I'm:
  • a few weeks off becoming a BJCP approved beer judge
  • putting my name on the judging list for the NHC
  • taking an online course in Beer Chemistry from Oklahoma University
  • still brewing many and varied beer styles
  • growing ingredients to make some very personal beer
But I won't be doing the following:
  • a dry January.
Firstly, and with huge thanks to certain members of the National Homebrew Club here in Ireland (with a supporting part played by Bus Eirann), I'm well on my way to becoming a beer judge. With only a few more weeks until the beer tasting exam (with no less than BJCP President Gordon Strong as proctor), I've to continue tasting beers (harder work than it sounds) and sit an hour-long online exam.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to feel out-of-my-depth learning about beer biochemistry, with words like Polysaccharides and 1,4 - alpha linkages.

Brewing Botanicals
I've beer to brew, including some for the March 1st Nationals held by the National Homebrew Club in Dublin, and I've been promised a Brewferm Mash Kit by HomebrewWest.ie to review.

Finally, I'll be growing Yarrow, Wormwood, Sage, Tansy, Hops, Bog Myrtle and so on, in order to make the most interesting beer Mov-town has ever tasted.

For now though, I'm going to finish up my notes on Lipids, have a cup of tea, and think about the next blog post: "How to be come a Beer Judge".

If you find any of the above interesting, there's a good chance I'll mention it some more in the following posts. For now though,

Happy New Year.