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Yeast Starters

I did my first yeast starter last week.

Yes, I’ve been brewing for 5 years. No, I’ve never done a yeast starter.

I asked some friends, and ended up with a sweet resource on Billy’s site (this is the dude who runs the Homebrew Academy, which you should check out).

I went to the homebrew shop, bought my ingredients, and made a yeast starter. I was all nervous at first.. How do I do this? What’s the next step. And then I realized it’s just like brewing, but faster. Like, 30 minutes all said and done.

So this past weekend I made another one. And I bought a 2L erlenmeyer flask. And let me tell you, the batch I brewed yesterday was fermenting pretty vigorously this morning. Way more so than my batches usually are after only a few hours.

Moral of the story, I’m learning more about yeast, and it’s fun. That is all.

Questions?

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This week in Mad Haven

It’s been an interesting week at Mad Haven (aka the kitchen in my apartment). One beer turned out amazingly well. One is.. scary.

We weren’t able to stick to the schedule I mentioned a few weeks ago. Surprise surprise. But we did brew a lot. It just won’t all be ready this week.

The last batch of the blonde turned out so well. It’s a little belgiany due to no temperature control – it costs a lot to run an AC 24/7. But it’s delicious. I’m going to submit it into a homebrew competition at City O’ City on Tuesday. I’ve posted the recipe before, but here it is again, in extract form:

  • 6 lbs Liquid Light Malt Extract
  • 1 lb Flaked Wheat
  • .5 lb Munich
  • 1.5 lb Vienna
  • .25 lb Crystal 15
  • 1 oz Cascade (5.5%) @ 45 min
  • 1 oz Czech Saaz (5.0%) @ 5 min
  • White Labs WLP001 California Ale

As well as that turned out, the Scotch Ale took a different approach. It appears I didn’t sanitize the oak chips well enough, and some sort of bacteria or mold got into the batch. This isn’t for the faint of heart:

Various people have suggested various things about this batch. My plan is to fill 6 bottles and try them in a few weeks, and then let the rest of it age for a few months. Unless someone reading this is a microbiologist and can see something deadly in there.

Before I saw this interesting infection, Kell and I had tried some off the spigot. And it was absolutely delicious. So, we’ll see what happens.

Hooray Beer!

In other news, Beer Week is upon us. Let me know if you’re in Denver this week!

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I brewed a lot of beer this week. Or at least saw a lot of it being brewed. About 900 barrels worth.

Pam the Dirty Blonde. First batch of the week.

Sunday, I worked at Beer at Home, and afterward I brewed Pam, the dirty blonde.

Monday, I woke up at 5 am and arrived at Strange brewing at 6. Tim, one of the co-founders, agreed to let me watch him and help out. His partner was out of town, so I ended up getting to help quite a bit. The system at Strange is a Blichmann B3, with some big 50 gallon kettles. They have a few different sized fermenting tanks, the biggest of which is 3 barrels.

The first batch we brewed was a pale ale for a pro-am competition. The am side of it was there to help out as well. We also brewed the first of three batches for Strange’s Pale Ale. While things were heating, cooling, boiling, or mashing, we got some other tasks done as well. We cleaned some tanks, filled kegs, and generally cleaned things up. The day started at 6am, and I got home at 7pm.

I didn’t have anything lined up for Tuesday, so I went back to Strange, and brought Kell with me. As we were just brewing, the day started a little later, at 7. We brewed 2 batches of the Pale Ale, cleaned some kegs, and worked on the glycol system. The day ended around 5.

Only picture I took at Strange. mmmm

Strange was a great experience. In my post about size, I was considering the small 1/2 bbl system. We worked our asses off with Tim, mashing in, cleaning tanks and tuns, getting hops in on time, transferring beer, cooling things off, etc. It’s amazing what Tim and Strange Brewing are doing over there, and it helped me understand even more why I want Mad Haven to be at least 5-7 barrels, if not bigger.

The experience was great, and I plan to help out Strange whenever I can. If you haven’t been over there yet, go check it out. Their tasting room is open 3:30ish to 8ish, Wednesday – Saturday. And they have growlers! Check them out – 1330 Zuni, Unit M – strangebrewingco.com.

Wednesday I woke up at an ungodly hour. I’ve seen 3:59 am many times, but very rarely at the start of my day.

Missile Silo. Wait... those are New Belgium's tanks.

I drove to Fort Collins to visit New Belgium Brewing. You may have heard of them.

By this point, my feet were killing me. I’ve been working a desk job for a few years now, so standing on concrete for a few days straight… ya, excuses. Anyway, I was excited for New Belgium, but my feet were not.

Good thing their system is completely automated. 99% or so. It was quite the experience.

I met Bo outside at 6am, and he gave me the best tour of New Belgium ever. Over the next 8 hours, I saw just about every valve in the place. And there are a lot of them. Bo said they have about 8 miles of stainless steel pipes there.

Super Sack of grains. About a ton.

What an impressive place. The system itself was pretty much not applicable at all to my plans. I don’t know if Mad Haven will ever be in the same order of magnitude as New Belgium, at least in terms of scale. I don’t know if I want it to be. But it was cool to see. They have a computer system that manages every action in the brewing process. From blowing in the grain to cooling down the wort, there’s a screen and a button, and a brewer to push it. They were brewing about 900 barrels of Hoptober on Wednesday. I got there as the first batch was just about done, and left as the 8th batch was being blown in. Ridiculously efficient. 8 hours, and we touched 8 batches.

Their equipment helps with this. They have a Merlin kettle. It has an upside cone shape at the bottom of the kettle. Wort is pushed in at the top, and it slides all around the cone. It is flash boiled there, coming to boil on contact. Imagine boiling a quart of water vs. just the water on the bottom of the pot. It’s like that. But hotter. It’s so hot and such a violent boil, they don’t even have to boil for an hour. The hops release their oil faster at those temperatures.

I can’t get into everything I saw there. There was just so much going on. I got some great ideas for when we brew more than one batch in a row though. Like using leftover mash liquid to sparge the next batch. And some insight into hop utilization across batches. Very cool stuff.

Bo was great. He’s got an impressive resume, including brewing school in England, brewing at Arcadia, and brewing at New Belgium for 7 years. He gave me some great advice for Mad Haven. He’ll be sitting at the bar when we open.

One of the coolest parts of my day there didn’t exactly involve brewing. He might get in trouble for this, and if so, sorry Bo. But, we toured the entire place, and one stop was the barrel aging room. I may or may not have sipped some La Folie out of a massive barrel. Let’s go with “may not have” to protect the innocent.

Other cool stuff happened. I met some great people, and saw some amazing things. Definitely a great experience.

Thursday I went to Boulder to help out at Mountain Sun. Mountain Sun makes some of the best beer I’ve had, and their pub model is fantastic. I definitely spend too much cash (no credit cards accepted) at their pubs.

Mountain Sun's brew house

Jason met me at 7 am, and we got to work. We brewed some Redemption Red, which everyone there was super excited about. They’re trying some new malts out, and it’s possible that the one I helped brew will get submitted to GABF.

This was exactly the experience I was looking for this week. Mountain Sun brews on a 6 barrel “Frankenstein” of a system. It’s amazing. It’s barely changed in the past 20 years, because it works. Everything there just works.

Jason put me to work. I got to pour in the grains and mix them into the water. If you’ve never done this before, imagine paddling a canoe through oatmeal. Hot oatmeal. I also got to clean out the mash tun, which is warm work. It was great, and I’m not being sarcastic. It really was an awesome opportunity. I helped Jason with the rest of the process too, from weighing out hops to cleaning the floors, from measuring gravity to some quality control. PS quality control is a necessary, important, and awesome activity.

Mountain Sun - all mashed in

Mountain Sun was definitely the most applicable day. Brewing with Tim at Strange was great, as he does everything from run the books to clean the floors. But Mountain Sun brews on a system that I envision brewing on. It was great to work side by side Jason and really feel what my days are going to entail. It was sort of like Goldilocks. Not too big. Not too small. Just right.

Overall, I learned a lot this week. From how to clamp a tri-clamp to how to stay safe, and many things in between. I made some friends and saw the extreme scales of brewing.

And my fire for Mad Haven is reignited. I can’t wait to get it going.

Adding hops at Mountain Sun

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Brewing Schedule

I have been getting a great response from brewers about shadowing this week. I even had to turn one down due to a scheduling conflict. It’s been amazing to see how supportive the local breweries are of a potential competitor!

Side note, I don’t have a computer while between jobs, so this post is from my phone.

Here’s my schedule so far:

Monday – Strange Brewed – Denver
Tuesday – open, maybe another day at Strange
Wednesday – New Belgium – Fort Collins
Thursday – Mountain Sun – Boulder
Friday – open

And the weekend is in the air.

I’ll report back on these awesome oportunities as the week goes on.

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Shadowing

It’s been a while. Some things are changing in my life, which has made things hectic, but has also created an opportunity. I’m back now though. Let’s talk about some beer!

I recently received and accepted a job offer with MapMyFitness.com as a web developer. I’m really excited about the opportunity. The company is great; they’re small, growing fast, they have an awesome product, and they’re downtown. I can ride my bike to work! They also happen to be 3 blocks from Falling Rock. Which might be an issue.

In accepting this offer, I asked that my start date be a week after my last day with Integer (where I work now). This will be the first time I’ve had time off between jobs in… a long time.

At first, I was trying to visit my friend in Germany. Turns out booking international travel at the last-minute is expensive.

My next thought was to fly to Seattle, rent a car, and drive to San Diego, seeing friends and breweries along the way. That, too, is expensive. I can afford it, but it would be tight. I decided that while it would be a super awesome road trip, I had to pass.

So now my plan is to stick around. And here is where the next opportunity comes in. I’m going to try to shadow some brewers. I’m going to try to get some real world commercial brewing experience. True, it won’t be the same as working at a brewery for a few years. But, it’s an opportunity to at least see the ropes, make some great contacts, and make some great beer.

I’m contacting breweries all along the Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, and a few in the mountains. Erik Boles of BeerTapTV.com fame offered to help connect me with brewers, and I am forever indebted to him for this. Once I have a schedule set up, I’ll let you know where I’ll be, but for now, I don’t want to mention any brewery names until they’re confirmed.

One brewery that has gotten back to me already is Strange Brewing. They’re a brand new brewery in Denver, and if it works out with the schedule, I’ll be able to lend them a hand.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have an awesome update on this soon. I’ll do a full write-up on the experience, should it work out, afterward.

If you happen to be a brewer and want my semi-able hands to help you next week (6/28), let me know.

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As I said we would, Kell and I have been pumping away at the business plan in hopes of having a rough draft out this weekend. Granted, I don’t think we will. But, we’re working on it pretty hard!

Everything is coming along pretty smoothly. Suppliers and other brewers alike are very generous with information. The City of Denver has been responding to questions about tax and property issues, incentives etc. All is well.

One thing that has sort of stopped us, while we get ready to gear up for the issue, is what size we want to be. Our two options are small or big. Granted, our version of “big” is still tiny in the world of brewing, but that’s besides the point. We’re looking at either a 1/2 bbl (bbl = barrel = 31 gallons = 2 kegs) system or a 3-5 bbl (either 3 or 5, that decision comes later) system.

Both systems have a lot of inherit risk. Just by opening a brewery, we are taking a massive risk. But, the beer is amazing. So, there’s that.

The 1/2 bbl system has a lot of merits. It’s inexpensive, comes pretty much ready to use in a nice little package, and doesn’t come with nearly as much initial risk. The idea with this system would be to ferment the batches in kegs or small plastic conical fermenters. All beer would be sold on premise, with maybe, just maybe an account or two. The labor to beer ratio would be ridiculously high, but the cost would be super low.

On premise sales are enormously profitable in relation to off premise sales. The revenue from a keg of pints sold in the brewery at normal costs is a few hundred percent more than selling a keg outright to an off premise account.

Of course, if the beer is as good as it is, and demand picks up like we think it will, the risk in this plan comes from the inability to grow. Growth is easy on a batch to batch premise. We buy another keg, we can brew another batch. But, for every new fermenter – aka keg – it’s another batch someone has to brew. It’s a linear growth that’s not sustainable in the long run.

The thought here is that it would be easier to get the investment for this lowered capital, prove our worth, spread the word, and then ask for more money and more equipment when we feel we need to. The downside of that is when we’re trying to save up money to grow to that next level, we won’t be able to satisfy demand. Customers get pissed. We go out of business. Or fall apart from being overworked.

The larger system, a 3 to 5 bbl system, loads a lot more of the financial risk up front. The initial investment is much more. Though, at 6-10 times the volume, the investment is not 6-10 times as much. At this level we can calm down a little on the brewing, focussing more on customer service and sales. There is more equipment required, like keg washers and fillers, for example. And we’ll need to go out and sell the beer to accounts like Falling Rock and Rackhouse Pub, rather than market to get people to come inside the brewery. So it’s just as much work, just allocated in a different way.

If we are able to secure the investment for this bigger system, the growth potential is much better. With any system, we have the ability to “double brew”, or brew more than one batch into a double-sized fermenter. This saves on yeast and time and tank resources. At the 1/2 bbl level, a double batch fills a 1 bbl tank. At the 5 bbl level, a double batch fills a 10 bbl tank. While the ratios are the same, 5 extra barrels of beer is a lot of extra beer.

Just writing this post is helping to push me toward the larger system. I think Kell said it best. It’s better to ask for a larger investment now, when we have the time, than to it is to spend an initial investment so we can ask for the same larger investment in a year or two.

So, assuming we can find a rich uncle or some other form of investor, it looks like we’re going “big”. From pico to nano!

What do you think?

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I have a lot of brewing gear. Relative to other brewers, I have no idea how it compares. But for my laundry room – aka beer gear storage room – it’s a lot. And I just bought another bucket today. I figured I’d regale you all with pictures and numbers. Figure out exactly what it is I have in stock right now. This also helps me when I have 5 batches going at once, and I need to do resource management graphs to figure out how to maneuver them properly for maximum efficiency. Yes, I have done that before. Yes, it was awesome.

Mash

ayou Classic® Single Burner Turkey Fryer Kit

Bayou Classic® Single Burner Turkey Fryer Kit

We start out the day by boiling a lot of water. I used to do this on my electric stove, but that took too long. So, I present to you the Bayou Classic® Single Burner Turkey Fryer Kit. This thing is sweet. It can boil 8 gallons of water in about 20 minutes. Huge fan. Definitely a keeper.

Mash Tun

Mash Tun

Next is my mash tun. This is a recent creation. I took a 70qt cooler, put a spigot on it, and grabbed a braided washing machine hose as the filter. Simple, cheap, and amazingly effective.

Mash Paddle

Mash Paddle

A piece of equipment that is used from this point through the boil is the mash paddle. It’s essentially a big ass slotted spoon. I used to use a smaller, normal 12″ plastic spoon. Turns out that sticking your hand into boiling wort really hurts. So I bought the paddle. I thought about using my paddle from college, but.. never mind.

Pitcher

Pitcher

Lastly, we have a pitcher. It took me a lot of batches before I bought this. Which is stupid. I should have bought a pitcher from the start. Live and learn. Anyway, this is pitcher 2.0, because my old roommate put it on a red-hot burner. Old roommate. Not current roommate.

Boil

BFP

BFP

Once the mash is all done, we move on to the boil. I technically have 4 kettles. I use 3 of them. Wort goes in 1. One kettle is my 15 gallon aluminum big boy. I bought it off craigslist last year. I left PBW soaking in it for too long. It’s all pitted now. I’m nervous to use to. So, I don’t use it. Next is this little 5 gallon kettle. My wort chiller lives in there. Then we have the big ol’ fryer that came with the Bayou Classic® Single Burner Turkey Fryer Kit. I use that one for water. Finally, we have my BFP. Big. Something. Pot. She’s my favorite. And is the one pictured here, bringing an American Pale Ale to boil. Weighing in at 32 quarts, she has been a part of my system for a long while, and has helped in pretty much every batch over the past year and a half.

Thermometer and Hydrometer

Thermometer and Hydrometer. What a happy couple!

Cylindrical Testing Tube

Cylindrical Testing Tube, chilling in the freezer

At some point in this process, we have to see how much sugar there is in the wort. That’s where super fancy scientific devices come in to play. Like a thermometer. Or a hydrometer. Or another late purchase that should have been made earlier, a cylindrical testing jar. I know, big fancy words. It’s ok, they ensure the beer tastes great! Actually, if I never tested anything, the beer would probably still be just as good. I rarely actually change anything based on these measurements. I only wait longer or don’t wait longer to do certain things.

 

Wort Chiller

Wort Chiller - My picture wasn't as pretty as this one.


After the boil is done, um, boiling, I have an awesome wort chiller to chill the, um, wort. This thing saves hours in the process. Rather than letting 5 gallons of boiling wort come down to 72˚, a wort chiller uses heat transfer and running water to chill the wort in 20-30 minutes, on a slow day.

Fermenting

Carboy

Carboy, looking like the champ he is.

The wort gets turned into beer now. It goes through a few stages. First, it’s in the primary. This is called a carboy. I have 3 or 4 of them. I’ve owned probably 7 or 8, but I lend them out or they break or something else happens. Anyway, the wort sits in these for about 7-10 days. Or a month, if I forget it’s in there. Oops.

Ale Pail

Ale Pail, with ale inside.

Next we transfer to a secondary fermenter. I like the Ale Pails, with a spigot toward the bottom. Some are nervous about the spigot, as it’s potentially a breeding ground for contamination. However, I like them. They allow me to test the gravity of a beer really really easily, which is a huge bonus. I have 4 with a spigot, and 2 without. They also have lids with airlocks, like the one seen in the carboy shot.

Serving

As of a few months ago, I can now serve beer via bottle or keg. Kegging is one of the best things to happen to me in my life. It’s amazing. I love it. Except for the fact that the beer goes so damn fast. So I still bottle the beers I want to save.

Capper

Capper. Again, Northern Brewer takes prettier pictures.

A capper is the only permanent device used in the bottling process. There are also bottles, caps, etc., but those go with the beer out the door, so no pictures of those. Just the capper.

The Kegerator

The Kegerator

CO2 tank, regular, splitter, and a keg of Great Divide Hibernation

CO2 tank, regular, splitter, and a keg of Great Divide Hibernation

Kegs

A few of the kegs

For kegging, I have a bunch of stuff. Four kegs, 3 pin lock and 1 ball lock. I feel like I’m missing one in that count, so let’s call it 5 kegs. Also, CO2, a kegerator, and other fun stuff.

Other

There are a ton of other random stuff that ends up being super important. Turkey Baster? Ya, super important. Tubing? I have 4 or 5 different lengths and diameters. Chemicals? Ya, Oxy Clean, PBW, and Sani. All ensure a tasty beer. I use Duct Tape for every batch. Mostly to keep information on the vessel, but sometimes for other stuff. It’s keeping the cardboard in the kegerator on the door. Why is there cardboard on the door? To hold the insulation in, obviously. I also have about 6 ways to get beer out of a keg, one of which is a rubber mallet and a screwdriver. This can all be seen in my sweet sweet toolbox:

Toolbox

Sweet sweet toolbox

Of course, the most important things in the brewing process aren’t the gear, but the people who use it. As I write this, Kell is cleaning out a carboy. That sort of help is so important to the whole process, and I’m going to wrap this up so I can go help him.

A good brewer can make a good beer with much less than this. And a bad brewer can make bad beer with much more than this. See my post on books for some good information, or just ask your local homebrewer.

That’s about it. I’m sure I have other stuff that I’m not even thinking of. If you want to know about something here, or something that should be here, or something that shouldn’t be here, leave me a note.

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