Category Archives: breweries

Worst. Brew day. Ever.

Seriously. I don’t think I have had a worse brew day at home or at work.

It started very well with a full tank of water at temp and grain in the hopper. All good. Got some of the water in the MLT above the screen went to turn on the auger to get grain from the mill to the MLT. Dead. Nothing. Nada. Not even a whine.

Checked everything that I could check. Got assistance from the head of packaging to check everything that HE could think of. Still nothing.

Plan B: Mill the grain into individual bags at the point of milling and tote all those bags to the MLT dumping them in one by one and stirring the mash to hydrate. I know it’s what a lot of craft brewers do but I haven’t had to do it until today. All 190kg worth. 😦 Just like homebrewing… x10. I kind of felt like I had the crap kicked out of me and I’m only two hours into my day.

All went well with the brew from that point on but what is normally a 15 minute process turned into an hour and a half significantly extending my brew day. Much clean up ensued with the help of brewery folk available.

At the end of the brew day, at the end of boil, I whirlpool for 15 minutes and rest for 30. During that time a transfer was taking place and a line circulation was needed to sanitize the lines for transfer. That’s right around the time I set up for my cooling in from boil kettle to fermenter. While cellarmen were circulating hot water to sanitize I started to set up my lines but forgot that one of my lines was also one of THEIR lines. I went to disconnect a line that had 180ºF water flowing through it and realized that it was still flowing. Luckily everybody was right close by so I asked them to stop the ciruclation. They did and one of two things happened: circulation was restarted thinking that I had reconnected the line or leftover water in the lines sprayed out at me once I dropped the line.

Regardless, a whole bunch of REALLY hot water sprayed at my chest and stomach and I got burned. Luckily I was very close to our chemical wash station (i.e., cold water shower) and I jumped right in and pulled the trigger. Some relief but certainly not long lasting. I spent the next 10 minutes or so trying to cool my burns down. I was soaked from head to toe with my wellies filling up bit by bit with every spray of cold water.

I tried to stay focused on getting set up for cooling in but was likely a little bit shocky from the experience. Luckily I have a shift brewer around and he took over which allowed me to recover and get a lift home from my daughter.

No damage. Eight hours later or so it feels like a bad sunburn: a bit stingy and slightly pink. No blistering, nothing permanent by any means. I laid down with some ice packs on my chest to keep the burns cool and by the time I got up things were much improved. Always many lessons learned.

Then, tonight at home, I was transferring to a keg and getting ready to rinse/flush gear. I turned on the hot water tap which hadn’t been used since before vacation. (When we go on vacation we shut off the water to the house for various previous reasons. LOL) When the hot water came on it was fine but there were air pockets in the line and it flowed fine for a while then burst forth and sprayed on the ceiling. I thought it was done and kept the hot water flowing it then let forth another burst and sprayed on me.

What? TWICE in one day? Come on! This one was in no way as bad as the first, but still.

Hot water and I are not getting along today. 😦

Hot water, it’s what’s on tap…

 

 

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Brew Stand Brew Day

It’s all come together! It is, for all intents and purposes, done. There certainly is some tweaking to do and a few bits and pieces on my wish list but it works and makes a bunch of beer in one go.

My last brew day I took some pics to show the set up. Some of the line set up is not pretty but that is part of the tweaking. I’ll just have to have a few more brew days to figure it all out. 😉

This is generally what my driveway/brewery looks like on a brew day. The blue cooler is no longer a MLT but is now a bin to tote material from inside: scale, chiller, pumps, etc.

The Brewery

The Brewery

 

HLT set up for heating strike water. I recirculate the water as it’s heating just to avoid hot/cold layers. It makes the temp reading up top a bit more accurate. This is one place I could use an inline thermometer.

HLT

HLT

 

My fly sparge set up. HLT to pump to MLT. MLT to pump to BK. Flow adjusted so hot water into MLT is roughly the same rate as wort to BK. Works like a charm!

Fly sparge

Fly sparge

 

Top of MLT. Foil with holes just to avoid channeling in the grain bed.

Sparging

Sparging

 

Lauter line into BK. I had originally had the line with the tri clamp fitting as the lauter line and had that attached to the top port. This set up is better with the line going to the bottom of the BK. Less splashing, less foaming, easier to see volume when the wort gets near the top.

Lautering

Lautering

 

This is the set up for sanitizing the chiller. For the last 15 minutes of the boil I just recirculate wort through the lines and chiller. The line set up is not pretty and I’ll be tweaking that so that the moving of lines for cooling in and chasing wort with water is a bit easier and smoother. Using the MLT as a chiller stand was a last minute thought and works well. I had originally thought about mounting the chiller on the stand but knowing now how much back flushing is required it’s easier to have it loose for now.

Sanitizing Chiller

Sanitizing Chiller

 

Set up for cooling in. This basically works. The line from BK to pump needs to be on the other side of the keg the chiller is sitting on. Part of my waste water from the chiller is going back into the HLT so that when wort is done in the BK I chase the wort through the lines with the water from the HLT. This is another place I would use an inline thermometer just to adjust the flow and get the pitching temps right, or at least close.

Cooling In

Cooling In

There you have it! That’s basically a brew day on my new set up. Thanks to Clay for the build and thanks to Scott for the gas plumbing and pump box! Fantastic work!


New Project

I’m embarking on a new brewery project: A brew stand!

My friends Clay and Scott are rather handy folks with “mad skillz”. They have built a brew stand before for other friends of theirs and I’m in the market for something similar.

The basic design of the stand is very similar to this but we’ll be adding extras, of course. I’m looking into burners, a pump, chiller, lines, etc., all that to be figured out later.

I realize readership of this blog is a bit limited but I’ll ask both of you: What do you want in a brew stand?


Beer in China

I just returned from a 2 1/2 week tour of China with a brass ensemble I’ve played with in the past: Brassroots.

It was an amazing time seeing an entirely different part of the world than Canada. The sights, sounds, smells, people, architecture, all so different and new to me.

Of course the main point of the blog is brewing and beer so I would be remiss if I didn’t focus on that small portion of the tour here. In short, all the beer I had in China was macro international lager style. Extremely meh. I tried several different brands but they were virtually indistinguishable from each other.

That said, when it’s 39∘C outside with a humidex hovering around 50∘C I tend not to get too picky about my beverages (except the tap water in China 😉 ). A cold beer or two served with lunch or dinner was definitely a welcome break.

A couple of things about the beer in China: First off, it’s very low alcohol beer. The strongest beer that I had was about 4.3% abv and the lightest beer was 2.3% abv. Definitely not beer that will knock you on your ass.

The other thing about the beer (and many other beverages) is that it’s sometimes difficult to get it served cold. The Chinese apparently are not terribly fond of cold beverages. We found this with the bottled water (room temp.), warm milk, warm juice, hot juice, and often room temperature beer. Many places had beer kept in a fridge but they didn’t usually keep many there so with a group of about 20 adults we regularly cleaned them out of their cold beer.

Some fond beer memories:

  • Hotel near the airport in Detroit having decent craft beer on tap
  • Centennial IPA available in bottles near the Detroit hotel
  • We drank the flight to China dry of beer
  • Buying beer in China for the equivalent of about $.50 for 500ml
  • Many beers named with their degrees Plato prominent
  • Chinese beer festival (this deserves a separate post)
  • Best beer on the trip was a German Schwarzbier given to me by my friend

And a gallery of beer photos for you!


Forked River Brewing Visit

Finally! A craft brewery in London!

I drive back and forth to London frequently in order to play with Orchestra London and teach at UWO and one thing that has been missing for a long time is a craft brewery. London has long been the home of Labatt, which I drive by on my way to UWO, but it has been a while since there has been a real bona fide craft brewer in town.

I was able to get an insider’s view of the brewery when I contacted Dave Reed, one of the brewers at Forked River. He was very kind to take a chunk of time out of his busy day to show me around the brewery and talk shop with me. I know how busy brewers can be and I felt honoured that he took so much time to spend chatting with me about the general operations in the brew house.

Tanks!

Tanks!

The brewery is very small, as you can see in the photo. It kind of caught me off guard to be honest. For some reason I was expecting something larger. That said, it’s perfectly suited to the space and to their current brewing plans. There also seems to be a fair bit of potential for expansion within the square footage that they occupy.

More tanks!

More tanks!

The thing that struck me most about the visit was that their set up is very much like a glorified home brewery. I want to state that there is nothing wrong with that at all, in fact, I found it quite simple and very common sense. They don’t filter, they just cold crash, like many home brewers. Carbonation is done over days, not hours. The MLT/BK/HLT are all just like a home brew set up. The boil kettle and hot liquor tank especially with them both being direct fired. They just seemed like glorified converted kegs!

Dave in action.

Dave in action.

Now the beer… I tried a sample of their Riptide Rye straight from the bright beer tank and it was excellent! I been withholding judgement on rye beers but Cameron’s Rye PA and this excellent example of the style have sold me on using rye in my own brewing. I will definitely be trying a rye beer in the near future.

I also tried a sample of their Capital Blonde Ale at the sample bar and found it to be quite enjoyable. I like the hop presence in both their beers and both beers are also VERY clean finishing which I do appreciate. I ended up buying a growler of the Capital Blonde and my wife and I quite enjoyed a few glasses of it.

There was their newest seasonal that had just started fermenting. I can’t say what it is but it does sound terrific and I’m sure word will get out quickly. I will certainly be trying a bottle of it myself if I can get my hands on some. I have no doubt that future seasonals will be equally interesting.

Dave and my growler.

Dave and my growler.

Dave was super kind to show me around the brewery during “off hours” and I do appreciate it. I look forward to stopping by to refill my growler on my frequent trips to and from London. Of course I invited him to Grand River Brewing when he has a chance but a start up brewery is a busy place. I’ll keep you posted.


Glass vs Plastic

I’m going to start a new regular column on this blog about my opinions regarding certain aspects of brewing at home. I guess, in a sense, that is already what the blog is about in part, but I’m going to weigh in on a few recurring debates and questions that new brewers have.

The first debate: Glass vs Plastic

Some brewers like to use plastic buckets for primary fermentation versus a glass carboy. I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with using a plastic bucket it’s just that I have more confidence in my ability to clean and sanitize and glass carboy.

I have a lingering fear that I’m scratching the inside of a plastic bucket and creating wonderful little environments for bacteria to hide wreaking havoc on future brews. I just don’t feel that way when I use glass.

I know glass can break and I do have a couple of experiences with broken carboys but generally I just try to be very careful when moving them around the brewery. I’m fortunate that I recently came into possession of a small pump so my days of lifting carboys are over. Sometimes.

One thing I love to do with glass carboys that I can’t do with a plastic bucket is to keep on eye on actual fermentation activity. I know after pitching on a fresh yeast cake that the amount of turbulence and convection activity in the carboy is amazing. I also know that I’m not alone in my desire to watch the activity… As often as possible.

I like my glass carboys. Brew in plastic if you like, there’s nothing wrong with it. I just like my glass.

Next debate: Primary vs Secondary (I’m also open to suggestions.)


Crushed

I had been hearing from a few other brewers recently about the speed at which they run their mills. Hearing about optimum speeds and not full speed or not too fast. I’m sure I had heard this before but probably not paid attention at the time as I was getting my grain pre-milled.

Now I’m milling my own grain on the brew day and having heard these discussions about milling speed finally decided to see what the fuss was about. I did do a bit of reading over at homebrewtalk.com (this thread) and it seems that there is much discussion (surprise, surprise) about rpms vs face roller speed. I also found this quote on http://www.theelectricbrewery.com/grain-mill:

Milling should be done at low RPM (revolutions per minute) to avoid shredding the husks. Somewhere around 150-250 RPM (around 2-4 turns/second) is said to be a good compromise between the time taken and the amount of shredded husk material. At this speed it takes us approximately 2-3 minutes to mill the 15-20 pounds of grain required for a typical 10 gallon batch of beer.

I have to admit, I just wasn’t aware of that. Likely because I spent a fair bit of brewing time not having a mill. Once I did get a mill I just attached my drill and let ‘er rip… or crush, or whatever is supposed to happen.

So hearing about these points I decided to try my own rather non-scientific test to see if there was a difference. I attached my drill and did a run at it’s highest speed and a run at the lowest speed I could maintain. I then photographed the results:

Crush at highest drill speed

Crush at highest drill speed

Crush at slowest drill speed

Crush at slowest drill speed

I don’t really notice a difference.

Now, it may be that if I brewed a batch with a slow crush grist and a batch with a fast crush grist there might be difference in efficiency. It may also be something that is far more noticeable or applicable in larger scales like a commercial brewery would be dealing with. This may be like the many discussions that homebrewers have about hot side aeration.

I’ll leave it to you to assess the results and… Discuss.