Category Archives: Rant

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…

 

 


Lonely Whole Hops

(The following post is all meant in good fun. I’m not really hostile about other brewers’ practices. 🙂 )

 

I grow my own hops and have used them before. They’re Hallertau and great for making pilsners, harvest ales, beers where the hops can just be out of the way: fruit beers, spiced beers. I’ve written about whole hops on this blog before. I think I wasn’t kind.

That said, I’m calling out my fellow brewers who don’t say that whole hops are a pain in the ass. Who’s growing them, who’s harvesting them, who’s drying them, and who’s using them? (I know my dear friend Peter is using them and to great effect so feel free to comment, Peter, but I know you’re all over this 😉 )

I think there is a secret that needs to be told and I’ve said it here on the other post: Hops are a pain in the ass AND nobody really wants to deal with that despite what brewers say. The number of times I offer up a free rhizome split and all the positive responses and then… Nothing. Same for picking your own… Well, one person came (in 10 years of offering).

“Free hops. Come and pick your own. Pick whatever you want and take them home and brew with them.” *crickets*

It’s okay, fellow brewers, you can say it and admit it freely here and you won’t be ostracized: Whole hops are a pain in the ass.

All together now…

 


My hops are pooched.

Went to attempt to harvest a bunch of hops last week from my bines in the back yard. Got part of a 5 gallon bucket and put them on a screen to dry in the garage. Came out the next day to turn them and noticed what looked like bits of the lupulin on the edges of the screen except… It was moving! Ew.

My hops are covered in aphids! That would also explain the high number of ants that were falling off the plants when I was pulling them down. Apparently aphids are a favourite bed time snack for ants.

I immediately put those hops into ziplock bags and froze them. They’ll be used as wet hops in a batch of harvest pils or harvest ale. Hopefully no one will notice the extra flavour of aphids in the beer. 😉

Shortly after that exchange I read this forwarded to me from a friend that he c/p from an article here:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/but-not-simpler/2013/06/05/i-hate-to-break-it-to-you-but-you-already-eat-bugs/

“Bug beer is even better. Many of the bugs and bug parts will be filtered out during brewing, but the FDA’s limit on the hops that go into the tank is 2,500 aphids per 10 grams of hops. That’s right, 5% of the total weight of the hops making your summer ale can be bug. A quarter pounder’s worth of aphid butt goes into the brewer for every 2.5 kilograms of hops.”

There’s always next year.


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!


Whole Hops vs Pellets

A divisive topic this week: Using whole hops vs pellet hops in your brew.

I’ll start this by saying that if one is using whole hops one REALLY has to be set up for it. Two words: Hop. Bags. You can do it without but it’s WAY easier to brew with whole hops if you have hop bags.

That said, I dislike using whole hops very much. Bag or no bag. For the following reasons:

  • They take up a lot of space in the freezer
  • More difficult to weigh out
  • They absorb a lot of wort/beer
  • Messier to dispose of
  • There is no advantage to using them
Ingredients: Hops

Ingredients: Hops

I have a saying: Whole hops are THE reason that pellets were invented.

I do grow my own and that is one of the few instances of my using whole hops: They didn’t cost me anything except time. And a lot of it. Whole hops are a pain to harvest and the amount of work put into harvesting is disproportionate to the amount harvested.

My other saying about whole hops: I will NOT pay for the displeasure of using them.

I’ve accepted whole hops as gifts (although I suspect there will be far fewer gifts coming my way after this post LOL) and in trade and I use my own that I grow but there is no way I would pay for a bag of whole hops. No.

What happens when you use too many whole hops without a bag.

What happens when you use too many whole hops without a bag.

Pellets are just much easier to use:

  • I can store far more in my freezer
  • They absorb less of my precious beer
  • Way easier to weigh out
  • Much less trub to deal with at the end of the brew day or after dry hopping

Dry hopping is actually one of the areas where pellets shine. Trying to get a couple of ounces of whole hops into a carboy and making sure that they are all in contact with the beer? Yes, bags, but again, you have to be really set up for it. With pellets I just don’t need to worry about more gear. Not that more gear is a bad thing. 😉

There, I got that off my chest.

As always, your mileage may vary. Flame away.

(My apologies to all those who have given me whole hops. They were not wasted and they were appreciated. Thank you.)


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.)


The Beer Store

Caution: Soapbox

First off, I don’t support it. I can’t stand the place except as the building where I return my empties that I bought at the LCBO. They have very few brands of beer that I’m looking for and the experience is generally dismal.

I read the following couple of articles in the last little while:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1306249–cohn-why-ontarians-can-t-bear-the-beer-store-any-longer

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1304864–cohn-more-reasons-to-end-the-beer-store-cartel

They sort of got me going again. 😦 And then this letter to the editor in the Cambridge Times added fuel to the fire.

http://www.cambridgetimes.ca/opinion/letters/article/1555887–monopolies-like-the-beer-store-poorly-managed-inconvenient

I totally agree with what the individual is saying it’s just that he exhibits the common knowledge that The Beer Store is a GOVERNMENT run business. It’s not! It’s run by the brewers which are ALL foreign-owned.

I’m not pretending that I don’t buy foreign products or even that I don’t buy foreign beer but just go in with your eyes open. If you think that you’re going into The Beer Store as a government run monopoly and supporting Molson as a Canadian-owned brewery. You’re dead wrong. Sorry.

Thank you. I just had to get that off my chest.