Brewing log sheet

, January 11, 2012

One of the things that I have learned during my brewing adventures is that there is nothing worse than coming out with a great tasting beer and not being able to make it again. So I developed a Brewer’s Log Sheet that is designed to keep track of all of the information you need to make a good replica of previous batch. This sheet is based from a book of recipe sheets that I used early in my brewing days, but updated and enhanced for the sorts of brewing conditions I am used to encountering in the wild. Due to differences in fermentation conditions like temperature and the nature of small scale brewing, it’s tough to get two batches of the same recipe exactly the same like you would expect from a professional brewery, but these can help you get that much closer. So let’s get down to the particulars.

Materials Section of Log Sheet
First and most important we have ingredients. This allows a place for you to log everything that goes into your beer, including grains, hops, yeast, adjuncts, flavorings, salts and anything else you need. This is very convenient because you can see everything you need in one spot, create a shopping list, and be ready to go to the brewstore. It is also very convenient for modifying recipes by adding and removing ingredients, converting extract recipes to all-grain, and finding good information about them. Plenty of space for comments also allows you to track ancillary information about the ingredients.

Next up is the mashing procedure. Keeping track of mash temperatures and times enables consistent extraction of sugars including controlling fermentability. Temperatures and quantities make it easy to reproduce process and manage your mash, while the times make it easier to keep track of the current mash.

Boil section of brewers log
The kettle operation section is used to record information about the boiling procedure. This information is extremely important for process control when attempting to reproduce recipes. Timing information is useful in planning and tracking when additions are required and the boil can be ended, and after the boil completes, the time boiled column is very useful for planning future batches. Recording the quantity and type of ingredients makes it easy to get ingredients and quantities matched up between batches, and leaves a convenient place to track the final boil volume.

Section of log sheet for Pitching and Fermentation
Next it is good to record information about pitching and the fermentation process. This space includes the place to record initial gravity and temperature, yeast type and pitching time. During fermentation, any time you test or move the beer, the gravity can be recorded to monitor fermentation activity and track dry hop and other post-fermentation flavoring additions.

Bottling section of log sheet
Finally, bottling. I created these logs before I acquired a keg system, and these sheets reflect that. All of the basic information, including gravity, date, and temperature is the same in both cases, so I have never gotten around to updating it. In the rare case that I bottle condition, it is nice to have a place to keep track of how much sugar is added, so it is probably best to leave it.

The Brewer’s Log Sheet is designed to cover the front and back of a regular sheet of paper. I print a bunch of them out, then 3 hole punch them and keep them in a binder. The Nutty Brewer’s Log stays with me whenever I am brewing or working on any other brew tasks. Hopefully it works for you, too.

Download the Brewer’s Log Sheet.

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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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Critical Brewing Equipment – Towels

, November 14, 2011

Now I know that most of you have a set of towels that you keep handy for Brew Day. You almost have to. Between boilovers, leaky sample jars, overfilled bottles, and spilled beers, a good table Zamboni is about the most important tool in your collection. As with so much of my equipment, I prefer to have a dedicated set just for brewing. That way I have full control over how they are treated, including selecting, cleaning, and stashing in convenient locations so there is always one close by when a spill occurs.

A nice neat stack of brewing towels next to a cold beer.

Over the years, I have built up an assortment of odd towels from a variety of sources. Check them out! As you can see, I prefer hand towels. Hopefully it doesn’t get to the point where you need a beach towel (what a mess!), and you can keep a small one in your pocket at all times for all sorts of minor things.

Mammoth Towels
I am a huge fan of the Colorado Mammoth, and you can see that I have picked up some towels from going to the games. As a season ticket holder, I get out there a lot, so these towels end up being the backbone of my towel fleet.

Denver Sports Team Towels
I also like to keep around any towels I pick up from my other local sports teams. In this case, the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rockies have made runs into the playoffs in recent years. The Nuggets towel I picked up at a home playoff game. As it happens, Rockies towels were much harder to come by, and that one was given to me by a friend who was lucky enough to get a ticket.

Green Bay Packer towel from Lambeau Field
Ahh, the Green Bay Packers. I am not a huge football fan, but I am not afraid to catch a game once in awhile. On a business trip to Chicago a year or so ago, I had the opportunity to move my flight to the Saturday before my meeting started. Of course, I took advantage of this and drove the rental car up to the Holiest Patch Of Grass On Earth, Lambeau Field. While I ended up there during breast cancer awareness month, which is why the towel is pink, instead of yellow, it’s still a pretty cool item to have around. I rather enjoy having it in the collection.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Towel
And finally, the flagship of the fleet. The Sierra Nevada Brewery towel. I picked this one up at, of all places, the Bonaroo music festival. I attended in 2011 to do a presentation at the “Broo’ers” Festival (read “Brewer’s” Festival) where I gave a talk about beer styles, process, and homebrewing. It was the first time I had done a beer talk on that scale, and turned out to be a fun experience, even though we were overrun by a bunch of Rooers who had been in the 100 degree heat for too long and just wanted some free beer. After the talk, the rep from Sierra Nevada gave me the towel.

Next time you brew, have some towels around. But even if you make a mess and don’t have a towel around to clean it up, the Nutty Brewer will never say “I told you so.”

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The right tool for the right job

, September 10, 2011

I spent a large portion of the last week and about 200 bucks installing a utility sink in my brewing area. Man, was it ever worth it. I finished the installation on Thursday night (after roughly 5 trips to area Home Depot stores (including nearly $100 of returns on the last visit)), 2 shutdowns of the water to my entire house, and roughly 24 hours of a drip that would have been totally unmanageable had it not fortuitously been dripping into the sink itself!

On Friday night, the day after wrapping up the installation, I got a hankering to get that India Black Ale in the keg. It’s been in carboys of various ilk for nigh on a month, and the dry hops have been in there for at least 2 weeks. After staring at everything for a few moments, I decided to at least clean out a keg. How amazing is this? I don’t have to carry the keg upstairs, then go back downstairs and get the drain tube that I always forget, then bring that up, move some dishes around so I have a place to work, then worry about which pieces and parts I end up leaving upstairs and have to get later. I don’t have to worry about making a mess in the kitchen and making sure everything is back in order there. No. Just grab the keg and throw it in the sink. Nothing’s going to hurt the sink, and nothing is going to damage the keg. I don’t have to worry about a bunch of kitchen germs, and best of all, there aren’t any stairs. Even if I forget something 🙂

As I sit here enjoying a pint of the aforementioned India Black Ale, I can’t help but think about how much easier the whole process becomes. 2 kegs cleaned, 1 beer kegged, that carboy cleaned, and everything done, ready, and put away in just over an hour. It’s that much easier, and this is just for kegging. I can’t wait for Brew Day!

If you’ve never done any plumbing before, it might be a bit of a stretch, but the reality is that I am pretty happy about the whole situation. It turns out that with these “sharkbite” fittings (closeup below), it really is easy enough that anybody could do it. All you do is cut the pipe to length and slide these connections on there. I was amazed at how easily these allow you do what you need, and they are compatible with copper, pvc, and pex at the very least.

Brewing is good.

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