My goal for this blog is to discuss and document equipment (DIY or purchased) used for various fermented consumables. I don’t want to confine the discussion to just beer, since I could see myself getting into wine making or meat curing. I tried cheese once and will do again, but my focus for now is BEER.
The great thing about brewing is that no matter what walk of life you’ve come from, what your talents and skills are, or the career path you’ve taken, there always seems to be something you can apply to the beer making process.
I am an engineer and I love tools, automation, optimization and pretty much anything DIY. I am rarely happy with off the shelf products. I seem to always find some way that in my opinion, I can do better or make it more customizable for my situation. I also like to challenge conventional wisdom. I have often found that in enthusiast circles, people tend to follow the leader without thinking about or understanding why the leader is doing what they are doing. I have especially found that in brewing, you need to understand your system and do what works for you. So also to that point, just because I do it, doesn’t mean it will work the same for you or that it has to be done exactly how I do it.
I am assuming that because you are into making your own beer you are already of the DIY mindset and that you also want to make some of your own equipment and are somewhat handy with tools, building things, tinkering and improvising. I won’t necessarily go in chronological order of the equipment I’ve made or purchased, but I’ll try to cover what I’ve done, where I’m going, some beer related topics and maybe some non-beer related topics that are of interest to me or the readers of this site.
Besides making beer, I enjoy spending every bit of spare time with my family. I am always on the quest to make processes run as smoothly as possible and reduce the time spent on tasks that could be done just as effectively through some alternative means.
My primary goals in whatever I’m doing with the beer making process are (and some are related to each other):
Not just brewing efficiency, but with all resources. (ie. money, time, energy, effort).
I focus on achieving consistent results with the changes or improvements that I make. Almost every brew session, I am trying something new, but I try to limit the changes to some measureable result so that I have confidence that the change I made was the root cause. I believe (and I know other respected brewers agree) that consistent brewing makes a better brewer than a one-hit wonder.
This is sort of along the lines of efficiency, but I try to strike a balance in my equipment and techniques that is “good enough”. A comparison might be the extremes of a triple decoction mash and a pure extract recipe. My “good enough” is a single infusion BIAB mash and sometimes a stepped temperature mash. It’s also a balance between getting everything with the mash/boil/cleanup done in the garage in 4-5 hours, using only the garage. Alternately one would take all Saturday, making a mess in the kitchen, spilling wort on the cooktop, etc. Now you’ve lost time with your kids or significant other, added a reason for others to not support your hobby and created extra cleanup for yourself.
My choice to use the BIAB technique is mostly related to the “good enough”, because it only requires one vessel for the mash and boil. I will also have to laugh at myself sometimes, where I can take a simple concept and geek it out with complexity, but I think my end goal with those types of projects is to remove variability (back to that consistency thing) with a simple input and output via a potentially complex method. Think of a Google search. You used to have to go to the library, scour through many different sources to get an answer. Now you can Google it, but the algorithm behind the Google search is anything but simple.
Also, I (much like other brewers) hate the essential task of cleanup and sanitation. If I can get the job done with 1 tool instead of 2, that is one less thing I have to clean and sanitize.
Since my brewing equipment storage competes with cars, bicycles, Christmas decorations, scooters, etc. I also try to reduce my “brewing footprint” and use every space possible and look to make everything as compact as possible. This really carries over into everything else in my life that I need to store.
Question things and try to understand the “why”. It might give you a new outlook on a method or technique you have been using since you started brewing or the prevailing thoughts that may have not been necessary or you’ve been doing it wrong.
Each project post should include an estimate of time required, a relative difficultly level and as much information as possible on where to acquire the equipment/tools needed and if possible pricing at the time of the project. I’ll also try to suggest alternative methods or techniques to achieve the same result.
I’ll try to provide an estimate of time that it took me to complete each project, or how long it should take the reader to complete the project with instruction. The time estimate will typically not include time to acquire the supplies needed.
(out of 5, subjective and not necessarily a linear scale) (need beer mug icon, empty and full. Full signifies difficulty level)
No tools required, simply a read or purchasing something.
Some tools required, but they are tools commonly owned and does not require another person to help. It could also just be a fairly easy activity.
Some relatively low cost specialty or non-common tools may be required or another person may be required to complete the project (lifting/holding/guinea pig).
More pricey specialty or non-common tools may be required or a special skill may be beneficial to the completion of the project.
Significant investment in specialized tools or equipment, may take considerable time or enlisting someone who specializes in the subject.
Very rare. I can’t currently think of any that go to eleven.
Equipment / Tools / Supplies needed
If I have links from this site to another site and I am receiving any kind of financial compensation for affiliate links (or similar), I will disclose it openly. My priority however will be to provide as many links to materials and equipment used to complete each project as I can. I’m sure I will provide many links to Amazon.com and my LHBS (Great Fermentations) simply because that is where I buy a majority of my supplies. I’ll try to provide pricing at the time of the project and hopefully dynamic/live pricing if technology allows.
*Disclaimer: I have signed up as an Amazon.com associates site, so please support this site by shopping through the links on this site! I’ll probably have links to other sites, so please support this site by clicking on ads or throw a simple PayPal donation my way.
Unfortunately when the United States drove the British off, we decided to still keep their crappy system of volumes and measures, even though they have proven smarter than us and at least adopted most of the metric system. I will be using imperial units in most of my notes, even though metric is much easier and intuitive than “American” units.
Disclaimers / Warnings
Errors / revisions
People do make mistakes and could mis-characterize something based on their level of understanding at the time. I am not an exception to this and I will revise information when needed. I’m an engineer, not an English major. I have a pet peeve with typos, but I know I will have incorrect grammar and bad sentence structures and run on sentences, and mis-use of commas, punctuation and probably some sentences ending in prepositions for.
Keepin’ it real
I love a well presented project with generic backgrounds for pictures to really highlight whatever is being worked on, but my primary goals are to communicate the steps to complete the project. Most of my projects are in the garage, so you will no doubt see typical garage junk, errant kid or a photo bombing dog. I’ll go ahead and not apologize for the lack of professionalism in the documentation.
“Safety never takes a day off!”
Always be safe and wear protective gear when working with power tools, electricity, hot liquids, hazardous chemicals, etc. I would like to say use common sense, but common sense is not innate. Common sense is learned by experience and hopefully by watching or learning from others. If you are trying something for the first time, please be 100% confident that it is within your capability. If not, befriend someone who can do it for free beer.
Puns, Quotes and Groaners
I love dry humor, movie quotes and the occasional pun or groaner. So you’ll have to get used to a certain amount of it in my blog entries.
Brewing is a hobby I thoroughly enjoy and I have something to show for it when it’s done. I do feel a certain sense of responsibility to my children, friends and acquaintances to make sure I don’t give homebrewers a bad name and I try to educate others as to what I do and why I do it. I encourage you to drink responsibly. Don’t be afraid you are going to sound like Debbie Downer by suggesting responsible behavior when things look like they could get out of control. I think my mindset is similar to the majority of homebrewers and I encourage the rest to drink and brew responsibly. Have I said the word responsible enough?
I was very appreciative of this podcast “The Flip Side” by James Spencer on Basic Brewing Radio to give everyone a reality check. I suggest you give it a listen.
If you suspect you might have a problem or someone you know might have a problem, you could start at the CDC website.