My first brew day since the Core exam was spent making a beer with my buddy Cody. We took a shot at a clone of one of his favorite beers, St. Arnold’s Santos. They call this a Dark Kölsch and admit that this is very much a contradiction. Breaking brewing rules sounds like good fun to me.

I couldn’t find any recipes for this clone, so I used Brew Target and the ingredient list from St. Arnold to come up with something.


Mashed at 153 for one hour:

  • 9 lb US 2-row pale
  • 9 lb US pilsner
  • 2 lb German Munich
  • 1 lb Black Patent


  • 1.5 oz Hallertau, 60 min
  • 1.0 oz Hallertau, 30 min
  • 1.0 oz Hallertau, 15 min
  • 0.5 oz Hallertau, 5 min

One hour boil, fermented at 16 degrees C (or as close as I can get) with Wyeast 2565.

OG: 1.050
FG: 1.01
ABV: 5%

A New Tool

This was the first batch for which I used a new tool that I built, which is just a small stainless pot modified with a thermometer and a dip tube that I’ll use to make yeast starters.

I attached a small aquarium air compressor to the dip tube to agitate and oxygenate the wort in an effort to improve the yeast health and number. I was a little more structured with my yeast starter this time, which was made with 2 liters water, 4 cups dry malt extract, and a half-cup of dead yeast. I should have also been able to use the compressor to force the yeast out of the bottom into the fermentor by attaching it to the top port I added, but a little of the dried medium created a small leak in the silicone gasket sealing the top of the pot. Maybe next time.

Brew Day

Cody and his wife Stephanie joined us for this brew day, and it was a great time full of laughter, delicious beer, and great food. Trang made double squid ink pasta with crab, and Cody supplied lots of Santos. Brewing went as smoothly as my brew days ever go, and I was a little rusty. We did multiple sparges and almost nailed the target OG of 1.051.

It’s taken the temperature controller a couple of days to get the temperature down to the target of 16 C due to the warm weather, but it’s holding nicely. Here’s a screenshot from my JavaFX application that interacts with my Arduino-based temperature controller.


Will this beer taste just like Santos? Probably not. Will it be as awful as the beer I brewed for Jeff and Adam? Impossible (sorry, guys!). I think it’ll be tasty, and I hope to have some carbonated by the time my dad visits late this month.




Dark Strong

A couple of friends and I have been planning a brew day, and we’ve been looking forward to it for months. It was tough to wait this long between brew sessions, but it was well worth it.

In building the recipe, we decided to be ambitious and attempt a clone of pFriem’s Dark Strong Ale. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no style superior to the Belgian Dark Strong. Jeff found pFriem’s ingredient list, but neither of us could find any posts about an attempted clone. A little tinkering with BrewTarget yielded a first draft recipe. While the style demands little hops, Adam nudged the hop additions a little higher than what BrewTarget initially suggested would put our bitterness in range for the style. Fine by me! Finally, a great Belgian style deserves a great Belgian yeast, so we went with Wyeast 3787, their Westmalle strain. This yeast is not only used by the Westmalle Abbey but the Westvleteren Abbey as well.

As always, the practical substitutions had to be made at the brew store. Here’s the full recipe:

23 lb 2-row pale
1 lb Carafa II
2 lb Caramunich
Mash at 162 for 75 min

5 lb homemade Dark Candi Sugar, 60 min
1 oz Fuggle, 60 min
1 oz Norther Brewer, 30 min
1 oz Tettnanger, 10 min

800 ml starter Wyeast 3787, fermented at 23.3 degc

OG 1.103

SG to be measured



2016-04-17 11.48.48More than anything, the available food and libations stood out this brew day. Between the
three of us, we built quite a menu of beers to quaff, and we nearly finished them all.

Furthermore, not only did Trang’s mom watch My Lan for the day, she made her incredible chicken wings. All grain brew days are long, but we were neither hungry nor sober!


2016-04-17 11.38.33

Modified pressure cooker

I’ve only made a few small changes since the last brew day. First, I modified a pressure cooker to supply pressurized steam for sanitizing my heat exchanger. I just drilled a hole in the top for a cam lock fitting. When it’s time to sanituze, I put the pressure cooker on a hot plate and attach it to my exchanger. Voila, low pressure steam does the sanitizing for me. I previously had to boil water and pump it through, so this is obviously much faster and doesn’t tie up my brew pump for half an hour.

2016-04-17 11.38.26

Sanitizing with pressurized steam

Second, I added a manifold to my rig. This allows me to divert the recirculating wort to the brew kettle as well as direct water from the hot liquor tank to the mash tun without any fumbling around with hoses. The pump inlet piping still needs some work.

2016-04-17 11.38.59

New manifold for wort transfer and sparge

Lastly, I built a stand for my hot liquor tank so it can drain into the mash tun by gravity. We had some trouble with the flow getting hung up at a high point in the flow path, so I’ll have to pay it more thought.


A stand gives the hot liquor tank the potential energy it needs for transfers.

The improvements were small but made it my smoothest all grain brew day yet. Switching to batch sparging has improved but not completely resolved my efficiency woes. My efficiency was about 60%. This is partly because of the style, but there may be other problems. I may be mashing at too high a temperature, so I’ll try a lower mash temperature next time. I’ll also ask for some advice from the folks at my home brew store, Above The Rest.


Stir it up, guys.

The homemade candi sugar recipe was a little different. This batch was made of 5 lb candi sugar, 1/2 cup molasses, and pickling lime cooked in a slow cooker for 30 hrs. I’ll back off on the molasses next time, as that was still the dominant flavor when it was done cooking.

Cooling was a breeze, although we rushed it a bit and pitched a little hotter than intended at 30 degC. The yeast starter was a good size at about 400 mL, but the heat shock set the fermentation back about a day. It’s going strong now.

The final batch volume was about 7 gallons, but we will be bottling nearly all of it.

I can’t wait to taste the first Dark Strong and the first beer made with the Westmalle strain to come out of my garage!


Dial it in

I attempted a clone of the Houblon Chouffe IPA Tripel last week.


Here’s the recipe:

26 lb 2 Row pale
2 lb Munich
1 lb Crystal 80
1 lb Belgian Biscuit
2 lb Sucrose

Mash at 145 F for 20 minutes and 155 Friday for 40 minutes

11 gallon boil volume, 10 gallon final volume

1 oz Columbus, 60 min
3 oz Saaz, 10 min
1 oz Columbus, 10 min


OG 1.064
FG 1.008
ABV 7.4%

As you might guess from the gravity after the boil, my efficiency was a terrible 50%. This was my second attempt at fly sparging, and it has also failed miserably. I’m ready to switch exclusively to batch sparging. This beer will not be much of a clone, but I hope it will be a respectable IPA anyway. Just look at how full this hop sack is!


At least, a few leaks aside, the RIMS and exchanger are working great.

Better with Family

Here we go! Today is Belgian-style Stout day, and I got to do it in the company of family. Alex and Connie were kind enough to help out.


The RIMS was up and running in no time. Strike water heated from 60 degF to 156 degF in about 40 minutes.

Today’s Recipe
60 min mash @ 156 degF
18 lb 2-row pale
5 lb Belgian pale
5 lb German Munich
2 lb Caravan I I special
1 lb Midnight wheat
1 lb British chocolate
2 lb Special B
3 lb light roasted barley

2 lb homemade candi sugar (added at flame out)

4 oz Norther Brewer, 60 min
2 oz Cascade, 5 min

White Labs 500

Initial wort gravity: 0.075
OG: Approximately 0.084 (estimated, see explanation below)
FG: To be measured.


The mash was messy. It barely fit, and my hose ended up pointing upwards, losing about a pint of wort all over me and the ground. I guess I needed equipment losses somewhere. That’s what I get for running my mash tun right at capacity. This seems to be a recurring theme.


Sparging went smoothly enough, although I underestimated my sparge volume. Boil went smoothly with only a small mess with the hot break.



Chilling went great! It was much easier to manage with the pump mounted to the cart.

Also, I used the new GUI for the data from my countercurrent exchanger. This is just a modification of my fermentation cabinet GUI, with the data feed coming through the serial connection to an Arduino Uno attached to an nRF2401L and programmed to relay data from the board monitoring the exchanger.


The only hiccup during chilling was a malfunction with a new piece. As you can see in the screenshot, there was a hang in the middle of chilling where all temperatures dip low.


imageThis happened because flow stopped on the wort side, while water flow continued and cooled the entire system! A bit of troubleshooting revealed the problem. After last brew session’s big clog, I installed an inline Y strainer. Unfortunately, the mesh in the strainer is too fine, and the small amount of debris from the pellet hops completely clogged it!

Thankfully, I was only trying out this piece and had a redundant, coarser strainer at the bottom of my kettle. Surprisingly, I also had the foresight to mount it with cam locks on each end for easy cleaning. I removed the Y strainer from the line and continued cooling.


After chilling was done, I pitched my yeast and called it a day. During cleanup, however, I realized that my homemade candi sugar was still cooking in the slow cooker! I took some dredges from the bottom of the kettle, made a slurry, and poured it through a funnel into the conical. It was messy but things worked out okay.

The biggest problem is that I didn’t get a sample reflective of the actual original gravity. The running from the mash came out at 1.075. With two pounds of candi sugar in a 10 gallon batch, that should adjust the gravity to about 1.084. That’s what I’ll go with.

I can’t wait to taste my first stout. Cheers!


Crash Landing

I’ve been neglectful. Only a few of my friends are into brewing, and fewer still are into coding and electronics, but this is all that’s been discussed in this blog. Most of the people who know me are more appreciative of the ludicrous messes I get myself into. I apologize for the oversight. This one’s for you.

September 16 was going to be a great day because I was planning to go all grain. This is a big brewing step. Instead of making wort with syrup or powder malt extract, the malt is made fresh on brew day from barley. It’s more complicated than just mixing grain with hot water. The grains have enzymes that have to be given time at just the right temperature to break down polysaccharides into
mono- and disaccharides that yeast can ferment into ethanol and other aromatic compounds. It adds time and complication to the brewing process, but brings the promise of more complex flavor.

I heated up some strike water, the hot water that’s mixed with the grain bed.

I’d bought 32 lb of fresh milled grain from the brew store. It smelled delicious.

I put the grain into the mash tun, a container with a false bottom to keep the grain bed.

There are a few ways to dough in, which is the process of mixing the water with the grain bed. I chose to let the water seep in from the bottom. I had no idea, but things were already going terribly wrong. I circulated wort in from the bottom using my pump to improve mass transfer and keep the temperature consistent throughout the grain bed. I still had no idea there was a problem, much less that I was making it worse.

During the mash, I monitored the temperature of the bed. 150 F was the goal, so here is a picture of the thermometer right at 150 F.

Of course, this picture is a gross misrepresentation of the average temperature of the bed. The temperature swung wildly between 140-160 F while I was chasing it frantically with ice and boiling water. I think I even added them simultaneously at one point. Oh well. It was still smelling nice, and it’s not problematic as long as it doesn’t hit 170 F for too long.

Finally, the mash was done and it was time to drain the grain bed into the brew pot. I used a continuous sparge, a technique of flushing the grain bed with hot water from the top while removing wort from the bottom. The objective is to rinse the sugar out of the bed. It wasn’t until this was done that I learned there was a problem.

The specific gravity of the final wort measured 1.04. I only extracted 37% of the sugar. 80% for this technique would have been good. 70% would have been bad. 37% is embarrassing. To troubleshoot, I checked the specific gravity of the wort still left over in the mash. It should have measured near 1.008 to reflect that the sugar had been rinsed out completely, but it came out to a whopping 1.02. Finally, while cleaning my mash tun, I noticed that the entire center of the grain bed was more like dough than spent grain. The problem became a little clearer.

It’s likely that the biggest mistake I made was that I didn’t mix the mash well enough. I had hoped a slow infusion from the bottom of the bed would thoroughly wet the grain bed, but that likely didn’t happen. Next time, I will use a different dough in technique. The other probable mistake was circulating and sparging at too high a flow rate. This has a tendency to create fast flowing channels, which cause poor mass transfer.

Fortunately, I had some dry malt extract lying around. I abashedly threw a few pounds into my brew pot to bring up the specific gravity and started the boil. I also boiled vigorously to decrease the final batch volume, further increasing the specific gravity.

Little did I know that my brew day of horror was only beginning.

I had my first boil over. The hot break was fast and vigorous, and it happened while I was still cleaning out my mash tun. I caught it pretty quickly. The mess was minimal. Compared to the mess that was coming, it was nothing.

I drank a beer with Trang during the boil, which was probably the nicest part of this brew day. She went to bed, the boil ended, and it was time to cool the wort. I made the hose attachments and started to chill, but the wort stopped flowing less than a gallon in.

I took a peek at the outlet hose for my brew pot, and there was obviously debris clogging it. I realized that, in my attention to the mash, I completely forgot to put the straining adapter into my brew pot. I had enough hops additions that I added most of the whole hops straight into the pot instead of in a hop sock. The hops were clogging my pump, and I had to stop them before they clogged my heat exchanger. Since the exchanger is made with 3/8 in tubing, a clog could potentially be incapacitating to my brew day and would be an annoying ordeal to clean.

I cut the power to the pump and disconnected the lines, spilling boiling hot wort everywhere. I cleared the lines manually and reconnected the hoses to eject through a stainless strainer. I was amazed the Chugger held up. There was a lot of hops in that pot. I was spraying hot wort everywhere while trying to hold the strainer in place. At one point, I sprayed the wort right on my hand. I dropped the strainer and the hops I’d filtered out flowed right back into the pump, clogging it again. I disconnected the lines again, cleared them again, and strained the wort again. Finally, it looked like things were running smoothly.

The mess was awful. My hands were hurting from handling boiling hot metal fittings and boiling hot wort. I was sticky. The floor of my garage was even stickier. Here’s the pump, covered in hops.

But, when brew day was over, I had 8 gallons of wort in the fermenter. That’s better than having to throw it all away. The final recipe was:

  • 28 lb Pilsner 2 row (mash)
  • 4 lb Caravienne (mash)
  • 3 lb Table Sugar (boil start)
  • 2 lb Light DME (boil start)
  • 2 oz Northern Brewer (boil start)
  • 2 oz Mount hood (15 min left of boil)
  • 2 oz Mount hood (5 min left of boil)

Initial SG = 1.080

Final SG = 1.018

I now appreciate how much better a crash landing is than a plain old crash.

Brewery 2.0, Brew #1

Today is my first day brewing with the latest iteration of my brewery. That includes a Chugger pump, my countercurrent heat exchanger for wort chilling, and my conical fermenter with upgraded cabinet controller software.

Thank goodness the friends I invited had other plans. The day started stressful when I snapped a polypropylene female camlock fitting while tightening an adjacent threaded fitting. 

I quickly replaced it with a stainless fitting, finished tightening things up, and the day improved thereafter.

The first task was to sanitize the conical fermenter. This meant making a 5 gallon batch of Star San. I knew it would foam when I turned on the sump pump, but what a mess!  

The foam nearly filled the 15 gallon conical tank. When I turned off the pump, the foam ran out faster than I thought and overfilled two buckets. It got all over the place! I saved a gallon like I always do, but I had to store the other four in a couple of cornelius kegs. I don’t have anywhere to keep these cool, so I can’t reliably store the Star San for the next brew session. It’s not like the stuff is expensive, but I’d like to optimize my use if I can since it’s a synthetic detergent. At least I have two sanitized kegs ready to take the beer from this brew session.

Another difference is that my burner has wheels!  

I like to brew close to the garage door for ventilation and to enjoy the weather, but I need to move the pot to the cabinet to pump it into the tank. I could either get really long hoses or make my brew pot mobile. Until I go all electric, I chose the latter. This has an additional benefit: I can fill the brew pot directly from the cam lock water supply I installed in my garage.  

I burned a couple of new lines on my brew paddle at 10 and 11 gallons since I’m doubling the batch size and got to work!  

One of the more annoying tasks with extract brewing is getting liquid extract dissolved. Dry extract is luxurious. It floats on top until it dissolves. It’s also expensive. Liquid extract is much cheaper, but it’s a sticky syrup that sinks straight to the bottom where it scorches. I previously dealt with this by slowly dissolving the extract with a metal strainer. Now that I have a pump, I can aggressively circulate the wort while adding extract!  
Sweet. With the extract dissolved, it’s only a matter of getting through the hot break. This is the point in the brew when the surface tension of the wort transiently increases, and bubbles form like crazy. With 5 gallon batches, I never worried too much. A 15 gallon pot can hold the entire hot break of a 5 gallon batch. I braced for the hot break and watched vigilantly. I was very underwhelmed. The hot break was prolonged and mild. I suppose this was just a lesson in dimensional analysis, but a welcome one.

With things underway, the most important part of brew day becomes imminent. My in-laws just got back from a European cruise. My mother-in-law stuffed a few beers from Copenhagen into her suitcase. What better to drink than beer that’s a gift, especially when it is a very thoughtful gift?

The recipe for today is a dubbel:

  • 60 minute boil
  • 12 lb pale LME
  • 2 lb pale DME (couldn’t fit all the LME in my bucket!)
  • 1 lb Cara Munch and 1 lb Special B, steeped
  • 2 lb homemade dark candi sugar (I’ll make a separate post about my recipe for this sometime)
  • 3 oz Hallertau hops, added at boil start
  • 2 oz Styrian Goldings hops, added with 15 minutes left
  • Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale
  • OG 1.061

Things took a little longer than I planned, mostly due to the new piping complexity.  

When brew day was finished, though, 10 gallons in the conical fermenter was a pretty sight. 

Here’s hoping it comes out tasty.


The final gravity was 1.018. This comes out to an ABV of 5.6%. It’s good. Although the body is a little thin, the hops and malts are balanced. A second keg is aging and may have a little more aroma and mouthfeel.

Brew Day: What a Cluster

My cabinet isn’t all together, but this is my last opportunity to brew for four or five weeks because of call. I’m really itching to go all grain, but I’m sure I’ll make many more extract batches before I’ve got a configuration that can reliably function. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

I’m out of home brew, so I’m drinking a Double Mountain Cluster. Thanks, Cagley!  Today I’m making a Belgian Pale. It’s my first legitimate pale since every other brew I’ve used candi sugar of one kind or another. This will also be one of my lowest gravity beers in a while, which will be nice in the late summer. Simply:

  1. 60 minute boil
  2. 1/2 lb Honey Malt and 1/2 lb Belgian Pale for specialty grains
  3. 8 lb Light LME
  4. 1 oz Sorachi Ace at 0 minutes for alpha
  5. 1 oz Hallertau at 55 minutes for aromatics
  6. Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale

OG: 1.058

I am using my Bayou Classic burner for the first time, which is nice. My old burner was dangerously small. 

I’ll be on call next weekend, so happy early 4th! Please don’t blow yourself up. I really don’t want to read your trauma pan-scan.