End of an era – Whale of an Ale IPA

, December 20, 2011

Brewing is fundamentally a process where each batch has a similar life cycle and this can lead to the development of a lot of brewing traditions. One of the ones that I observe is to always declare “End of an era” when I get to the last of any brew. Sometimes it’s just for me, others it’s just a way to let my brewing partners and friends know that the keg is kicked. But I always feel a moment of sadness when that last bit of foam spurts out of the keg; gone from the world is something very real that will never be here again. My brew system isn’t perfect like that of the big boys, and I understand that the particular experience that was this brew won’t likely ever come back. I might get pretty close, but some way, somehow, we’ll never be here again. I guess I just get a little sentimental.

So when I heard the keg sputter out that last bit of foam from the Whale of an Ale IPA tonight, I had a somber moment as I reflected on its impermanence. Much like life, a great batch only lasts so long, but it has the opportunity to make brighter the lives of those around it, if only in a small way. I couldn’t help but smile, and as I took my nearly empty glass (the last inch of the dregs that made its way into the bottom was mostly foam anyway) into the other room, I told Mim “End of an era” and we paid our little moment of respect. But our troubles were brief, as the bubbling carboys in the next room will be our next story to tell. Someday I’ll look back in the brew log and think, that Whale of an Ale, there will never be anything quite like that again.

A happy new year of brewing to all of you.

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Coming home from an off site brew day

, December 18, 2011

As many of you probably do, I brewed today at a brewing partner’s house. We had a great day, making ten gallon batches of a porter and a stout. It’s really a great system, and is pretty straightforward with a little planning. You do end up loading a fair amount of gear up, but it’s sometimes nice to go work with other people’s brew systems and techniques. I certainly have leaned a lot in my travels this way.

This is great system, but it’s a good idea to follow some basic ground rules. First, and most obvious, go easy on step one (relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew). Have a good time, of course, but always stay safe. If you are bringing your own burner, don’t forget propane. Yup, I learned that one the hard way. Make sure your carboys are clean before you go, although sanitizing them on site is generally simple enough. Plan ahead and make sure you have everything you need – the day will go easier.

As for loading up the carboys on the way home, make sure you get the lids screwed on nice and tight to prevent spilling. Double extra make sure that you loosen them and get the airlock on when you get home. There is nothing worse than letting a sealed carboy ferment for a day or two.

Remember to buckle up.
Carboy full of fresh stout riding home in the front seat

Yes, even in the back seat.
Carboy of porter tightly buckled for the ride home

And remember, it’s always best to keep any sunshine off your beer, particularly if you use lots of hops. At the same time, you can even put yourself in position to use the HOV lane!
Every girl's crazy about a sharp dressed carboy

Happy brewing at your place, your friend’s place, or at the Nutty Brewer’s brewery.

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Increasing batch efficiency – reducing siphon losses

, December 14, 2011

Ever finish siphoning a batch from one carboy to another or into a keg and wonder how you can leave less homebrew in the bottom of the batch? All that beer that is left in the bottom of the carboy becomes beer that you can’t drink. These losses can add up, especially if you are dry hopping or have a beer that has to be racked multiple times for any reason. Here is a simple modification that you can make to your standard racking cane to reduce the amount of loss each time you siphon.

To reduce the amount of beer that is left in the bottom of the carboy, all you have to do is cut down the foot of the racking cane. This foot is very useful for preventing trub, yeast sediment, dry hops, or any other undesirable materials from making it into your secondary or keg, but most of them are too tall and end up leaving too much beer in the bottom of the carboy. By cutting down the foot, you can still keep most of the nastiness in the bottom of the carboy, but with a lot less beer. Here’s how.

To perform this task, all you need is a couple of simple tools. I used a vice grip and a hacksaw. Only the hacksaw is really required, but it is very nice if you have a vice or vice grip to make it easier to hold onto, and also makes the modification somewhat safer.
Tools for racking cane modification

Take your vice or vice grip and clamp it around the foot of the racking cane that you wish to enhance. This can take a couple of tries to get a good solid grip and get in the correct location, but make sure you have it right before you move to the next step. I like to cut about half of the height of the foot off, to make sure that you can leave all of the sediment in the bottom of the carboy. You certainly don’t want to let a lot of that through if you can avoid it. Note that there may be some scratches that end up on the foot during the process, so minimize that if you can, because scratches can harbor bacteria, but since we all do a very good job of sanitizing these things, don’t worry about some minor scuffing.
Preparing to perform the racking cane modification

Using a hacksaw, cut the top off of the racking cane foot. Be careful while you are doing this, as obviously the saw is sharp, but also to get a good groove in the plastic and stick with it. If you get multiple grooves in the plastic, the rest of the sawing can be much harder.
Cutting the racking cane foot

When you are done cutting the foot, you should have the shorter version of the foot and the piece that was cut off as well as some smallish bits of plastic left over from the cutting. You can get rid of everything except for the remaining part of the foot at this time.
Completed cut for the racking cane modification

The cut will have some very rough edges and burrs on it from the cutting, so I recommend getting out a piece of sandpaper and sanding down the cut until it is smooth. Simply place a piece of sandpaper, rough side up, on a workbench or table and wiggle the freshly cut end of the foot until there are no more burrs and it is as smooth as possible. If available, do this twice, using 60 and then 100 grit sandpaper to make it as smooth as is practical.
Sanding the cut racking cane foot

Rinse the racking cane foot well in water, and then do a visual inspection to make sure that it looks good, and is free of any burrs or other pieces of plastic that could come off during the rack. You wouldn’t want to see any plastic bits floating in your beer! You are now ready to put it on your racking cane, sanitize the entire setup, and siphon away. Good luck keeping more of your beer to drink and increasing your efficiency by reducing the losses you encounter during the siphoning process.
Completed racking cane modification

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Southern Hops Brewing Company – LeeRoy Brown

, December 1, 2011

LeeRoy Brown is the Brown Ale offering from the Southern Hops Brewery in Florence, South Carolina. Being a Jim Croce fan, I really like the name of this beer.

Picture of LeeRoy Brown

The sample I tasted was slightly undercarbonated. I suspect that it was bottled from a keg, which would explain this. The beer has a pretty brown color, slightly too dark for a brown ale, but quite pretty. The aroma is very faint, a hint of malt but no hop character at all.

The beer tastes slightly nutty, with low hop bitterness, just enough to balance the maltiness. Body is very thin; I would expect more from this style. There is no appreciate hop flavor, a little would be a nice addition to this beer.

overall, this beer is not bad. My initial impressions weren’t great, but as I took a few more sips, the balance started to come forward. The body is a little weak and the carbonation levels too low, but otherwise I enjoyed the beer.

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