Category Archives: Charts & Graphs

Mash Tun Insulation Comparisons

It is a hard truth that you will lose some temperature during your mash.  In my desire to go electric, I recently purchased the BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL from William’s Brewing.  Without actually even having brewed a batch of beer on it yet, I already got to work figuring out how to insulate it.  I tested various insulation methods on the Mash & Boil, but the relative comparisons should be valid on any mash tun.  A post with a better review of the Mash & Boil and my reasoning for wanting to go electric will come at a later date.

Nerd Alert!

Warning, the material in this post could get a bit nerdy.

WarningSign

Difficulty: level_5

Easy for you

Time Required:

Just a read for you fortunately.  It took me about a week to perform the experiments.

Background:

One of the advantages of an electric brewing system should be accurate temperature control.  With such a new system as the BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL, there is a lot of discussion about the 6 degree swing in temperature control.  This is pretty well contrasted with much more expensive systems as the Grainfather or PicoBrew Zymatic that may hold temperature within a degree or two.
While I do agree this could and should be safely regulated to a tighter temperature band on the Mash & Boil, I would at least propose that the first line of defense is just to insulate your mash tun so that accurate temperature control is not as critical.  In all reality, this is a turn-key electric brewing system for less than 1/3 the cost of the other systems on the market.
I initially started brewing with a 44 Qt kettle doing 5 gallon batches with a propane burner.  I did notice a decent amount of temperature loss, so I created a thermal wrap to use during the mash.  This was made using some cotton based insulation meant for water heaters.  I did not want to mess with fiberglass based insulation.  When I moved to a 62 Qt kettle and larger batches, I think the larger thermal mass helped maintain temperatures better, but I went ahead and used the same wrap anyway.
With the new system, it had such a different diameter to height ratio, I decided to start from new again.  Since we homebrewers are a thrifty bunch, it usually comes down to whatever we had on hand at the time we needed to create it.  This time for me, however, I had enough time to plan it out and (gasp) actually test it before using it.  As stated before, these results should be applicable to any mash tun that adheres to the laws of thermodynamics.

Insulation methods to test:

Baseline – Stock BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL kettle

  1. Described as double wall stainless construction
  2. Pros: you don’t have do do anything
  3. Cons: Hypothesis is that this will be the worst performer

Duck brand, cotton enhanced (Non-fiberglass)

  1. Was about $20 when I originally bought it and that is about the going rate at your local hardware store
  2. This was the insulation wrap from my 62Q Bayou Classic kettle
  3. Pros: Fairly inexpensive, relatively easy to find and no special handing required
  4. Cons: A bit dusty when cutting and not as tidy as the Reflectix

Reflectix

      1. It cost me $27 for a 25 foot roll at my local hardware store and is enough for 2 kettles worth
      2. 3 layers from the lip of the kettle to the top of the control box
      3. 3 layers loosely fit on the lid
      4. Pros: Easy to work with, clean look
      5. Cons: Really requires a semi-custom fit for it to perform well
      6. I’ll have a future post with cut dimensions so you can make your own

Cold weather sleeping bag

    1. No link, as these have been in my family for a LONG time
    2. Pros: super quick and most people have them on hand
    3. Cons: If you somehow damage it for brewing, you’ll probably get in trouble with your family

Baseline – Stock BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL kettle:

024-Insulation_Baseline
Nothing to see here… move along…

Duck brand, cotton enhanced:

024-Insulation_Cotton_Based
 This was the setup from my 62 Qt. Kettle and wasn’t a custom fit for the Mash & Boil.  I wrapped a bungee cord around it to keep it in place.

Reflectix:

024-Insulation_Reflectix
I custom tailored this wrap in 3 layers to fit this kettle.  I wanted to be sure it did a sufficient job of insulating before I finished the edges off with Reflectix tape, hence the reason for the blue painters tape.

Sleeping Bag:

I wrapped the sleeping bag all the way around the kettle once and then had enough length left over to do a sort of “comb over” on the top of it.  I finished it off by holding it on with the bungee cord.
024-Insulation_Sleeping_Bag 

Other methods considered (since I have seen them used), but not tested

  1. Fiberglass water heater insulation (I don’t want fiberglass anywhere near my beer)
  2. Single and double layers of Reflectix to understand the impact
  3. Custom molded expanding foam mold
  4. Red-Hooded sweatshirt

Setup and Test Methodology:

I have not modified the Mash & Boil in any way.  I just used the unit in stock condition and let the temperature controller do it’s thing to get the water up to temperature.  I used exactly 6 gallons of RO water for the experiment.
The kettle was placed in my basement storage room, which maintained a consistent 65 degF throughout the testing.
I had 3 temperature probes in the kettle.  One at 1″ from the bottom, then another 6″ up and another 12″ up.  This was a nice spread for 6 gallons of water.  In reporting temperatures in this experiment  I am only using the temperature sensor at the 6″ height.  The other sensors were a proof of concept for some future testing I plan to carry out.  I did see some stratification in the temperatures over time as the water cooled, but for consistency, I chose the 6″ probe.
To start the each test, I topped off to 6 gallons and set the Mash & Boil to 215 degF and let it ramp up.  As soon as the system was boiling, I turned it off and unplugged it from the wall.  Temperature measurements were taken approximately every minute.  I allowed the temperatures to cool to somewhere around 100 degF or as long as I could stand it.  Absolutely no stirring or opening of the lid occurred during the cool down.
The critical stage in the test was when the water cooled to 155 degF.  At that point, marker would be taken and then compared to the temperature exactly 60 minutes later.  This would be indicative of a typical mash temperature and the relative temperature loss during the mash.  Yes there will be different thermal capacities of a water/grist mix, so to reduce the experiment to just the insulation, straight RO water was used.

Results:

I normalized the cool down datasets so that the start time (t=0) was the same for each configuration at 200 degF.  As a visual reference aid, I placed a line at 155 degF to see what the curves look like near mash temperatures.  One can clearly see here that the baseline configuration with no additional insulation decreases in temperature the most rapidly.  The cotton based insulation is a bit better, then beat by the Reflectix and then the sleeping bag.
024-Mash Tun Insulation - Cooling
This small table places numerical values on the temperature drops through a simulated mash temperature window.  I calculated these temperature drops by taking the very last data point that was greater than 155 degF.  Then I grabbed the next data point that was +60 minutes from that initial point.  The values shown are then the differences between those two temperatures.
024-Mash Tun Insulation - Results Table
To glean even more from the data, I plotted the 4 different configurations only through the mash temperature window.  I normalized these curves so that the start time (t=0) was the same for each configuration at 155 degF The left axis shows the actual temperature reading, while the right axis shows the temperature drop, relative to the 155 degF starting reference temperature.  I also placed a helper line at 155 degF.
If you are to accept the belief that most of the conversion is done within the first 15 minutes of the mash, both the Reflectix and Sleeping Bag insulation methods show a drop of less than 1 degF within the first 15 minutes.
024-Mash Tun Insulation - Mash

Discussion:

My worst fear when starting this experiment would be that there would be little to no measurable difference in the insulation methods.  I was pleasantly surprised when processing the results, there were clear and measurable trends in the data.
None of the installations were optimized, but I think that unless you are really a stickler, the level of care i took on each installation is all the typical brewer would want to mess with on brew day.
Even though the clear winner in this showdown was the sleeping bag, as with almost all of my brewing equipment, I prefer to have it all dedicated to just brewing.  As such, I will go with the Reflectix jacket.  I am not going to pull the sleeping bags out of our closet on brew day.  Not to mention the eventual spillage of wet sticky grain outside of the kettle and the associated clean up of the sleeping bag.  I do plan to finish off the edges of my Reflectix setup so that when it does get messy, I can just spray it off with water.
I could possibly run another test with more layers of Reflectix, and I would suspect you would get closer to the performance of the sleeping bag.  However, in my case, I purchased a 25 foot roll and intend to make 2 sets worth out of the one roll, which gave me 3 layers worth for each.

Conclusion:

Everyone has their own selection criteria when choosing the best equipment for their needs, so I hope you’ll find the information reported in this post useful.

Disclaimer:

William’s Brewing has been set up as an affiliate site, so clicking on links to the Mash and Boil system on this site and in this post will give credit to fermware.com for the referral.  This post and any others, should not be taken as an endorsement of the BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL, it was simply the test bed for my experiments.  If you found this post helpful and do wish to purchase the BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL, please click on the links listed on this site and in this post.

Managing Your Brewing Schedule

In order to brew good beer, you need good preparation.  You’ve probably heard a coach, parent or teacher tell you the 5 P’s.
Prior
Preparation
Prevents
Poor
Performance
Or some variation on that theme…
I’ll show you how I plan out my brewing to make best use of my time, equipment and yeast.

Difficulty: level_2

This just requires a quick read and downloading of the Excel file or creating your own.  What you do from here is up to you.  You’ll be able to download my file at the end of this post.

Background:

I really love Gantt charts and how they can help you to be organized. Microsoft Project is either a really good or really bad tool to use (depending on who you ask). I actually like it for projects that I manage at work, but I don’t get into the fine details. I just use it for basic timelines, since it really helps me see the big picture. I started looking at using it for my fermentation schedules, but in brewing, your yeast are on a 24/7 schedule and I was finding all sorts of roadblocks in using 24 hour schedules in Project.

WarningSign

I ultimately decided to go back to my old trusted Excel spreadsheets for this task. This format has served me well for the last two years. I don’t claim that this is the ultimate way to do it, but it might at least serve as inspiration for someone else to create something grander.

Hover or click on each section to learn how I use this sheet.

Conclusions:

Like I said, I hope that this helps a fellow brewer out for mapping out their schedule or inspires another to build on this or create their own.  Happy Brewing!!

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Beer Description and Basics:

014-Beer Descriptions and Basics

These columns simply denote the batch number, size, name and the yeast to use.  I just added yeast this year so I can manage my yeast more efficiently with re-use and/or racking onto yeast cakes.

Yeast Color Codes:

014-Yeast color codes

I heard on one of the brewing podcasts that you can actually go 8+ generations with really healthy yeast, but since I’m not in any kind of production capacity, I’m usually at the third generation before I’ve reached the end of my step ups.

Dates:

014-Dates

Since I typically brew on Saturdays, I just chose the Saturday date preceding the next week as my column headers.  I then highlight the weekends where we were either out of town, that weekend was off limits to brewing or maybe a weekend for a school break for the kids.

Very Top Row:

014-Top_Row

I didn’t enter any beers for NHC this year, but I did enter some in the Indiana Brewers Cup.  I had a week highlighted for the due date for entries and then the actual awards banquet.

Gantt Chart:

014-Schedule

014-Schedule_Key

This is really the core of my schedule, since it helps manage the timing of your brews along with your equipment capacity. As you can see in my schedule, I typically brew two batches at a time (as mentioned in the ABOUT MY BREWING).  When pairs of three are shown, I’ve started messing with maxing out my kettles with 1.5x the grain bill and reducing the water a little during the mash and boil, so that I get 3 batches (~15 gallons for me) out of one brew session.
Since most of my fermentations just follow a similarly timed schedule, all I do is just cut & paste (CNTL-X & CNTL-V for those like-minded keyboard shortcut preferring keyboard jockeys).  You may notice that I plan to try out the condensed lagering schedule later this year that is getting some attention lately.  Here is a link to Brulosophy’s Lager Method.

Conclusions:

Like I said, I hope that this helps a fellow brewer out for mapping out their schedule or inspires another to build on this or create their own.  Happy Brewing!!

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Belgian Candi Sugar and Silicone Baking Mats

DIY Candi Sugar Made Easy

Difficulty: level_2

Time Required:

one to two hours, depending on how dark you plan to make your candi sugar

Background:

If you are planning on making a potent Belgian beer such as a Dubbel, Tripel or a Home Run (just kidding!), you are going to need Belgian Candi Sugar. If you have already purchased some, you know that it can make the cost of your batch of beer skyrocket. It typically runs about $6/lb! My Tripel recipe uses a modest 3 lb. You can however make your own Belgian Candi Sugar at home with just a few simple things, some time and some regular table sugar that you can get for about $2.50/4 lb. bag ($0.63/lb).  As I write this Christmas season is just around the corner and thus the reason I’m preparing some candi sugar.  I’m preparing to brew one of my favorite and most interesting beers I’ve ever had.  It is based on a Northern Brewer recipe Saison de Noel.  Mine is identical, but I use homemade dark candi sugar instead of the candi syrup.  If you want the quick instructions, just read the headings.

Oh, and this recipe could be used to create windows for a gingerbread house too!

Equipment / Ingredients Required:

  • Table Sugar (1 lb. sugar yields approximately 1 lb. candi sugar)
  • Lemon Juice (addition of approximately 1 tsp. / lb.)
    • Used to “invert” the sugar
  • Candy thermometer
    • This one had the best reviews.  They indicated that the temperature markings would come off of others
    • I like the coded indicators for different crack temperatures
    • These are good, because they keep the bulb off of the bottom of the pot, which will help to prevent false readings
  • Silicone baking mat (Trust me, this is the best way to do it)
    • Less expensive that actual Silpat brand
    • Fit our inventory of baking pans better
    • We’ve had ours for almost a year now and they get used often.  Still no staining or degradation in the material.
    • My wife is a great baker, so this was an easy sell on why we “needed” them
  • SRM color chart (for consistency)

Why I recommend the silicone mats?  Past fails…

  • Non-stick baking pan
    • Yes, they are non-stick, as long as it isn’t Candi Sugar you are making on them
    • You can warp the baking sheet to pop it off, but quite a bit still sticks.
  • Wax paper
    • Stuck to the hardened Candi Sugar
    • I ended up with bits of wax paper floating in the boil
    • I did catch it with a colander when I poured into my fermenter, but just a pain
  • Foil
    • Still no luck
  • Just learn from my mistakes and buy some silicone mats!

Procedure:

 

002-Candi Sugar - lemon juice

Get your lemon juice ready

As I mentioned before, you need about 1 tsp. per pound of sugar.  I love using syringes for liquid measurement.  We have 3 kids, and so we’ve got about a bunch of these from all the prescriptions they’ve needed.  I just used lemon juice.  Fresh squeezed or the pre-bottled stuff will work.

002-Candi Sugar - Just Sugar

Pour the sugar into a pot

With candi sugar, you put in a pound of sugar, you pretty much end up with a pound of candi sugar.  I recommend putting in a little extra to account for some sticking to the pot when you pour it and some of it ending up in your mouth when you are done.  It’s so good it tastes like candy!  Oh wait..

002-Candi Sugar - warming up

Add just enough water to saturate the sugar

If you add more water than necessary, it won’t ruin it.  You’ll just be waiting longer for the water to boil off.  You’ll be surprised at how little water you need.

002-Candi Sugar - maintaining temperature

Add lemon juice and warm up to temperature (260-275 degF)

Pour in your lemon juice and you want to warm to between 260-275 degF.  This is right between “Hard Ball” and “Soft Crack”.  It will take a bit of time to get the sugar dissolved and boil the water off.

Maintain temperature for about 20 minutes

Once you get the mixture into the temperature range, you want to dial back the heat on your cooktop.  I took it down to about 4/10 and was able to maintain with just 2 large spoonfuls of room temperature water at a time.  This is just like a boiling kettle, in that if you walk away, you could come back to a mixture that has overheated and made a mess or cooled too much.  I fluctuated through the range, but was averaging about 270 degF throughout the initial 20 minutes and on into the darkening period.

After 20 minutes, keep at temperature and decide how dark you want it to get

Take a sample small spoonful and drop it onto a piece of wax paper to do a color check with your handy dandy SRM chart.  Yes, I know I said not to use wax paper, but it is semi-transparent and if you also put a piece of white paper under it, you will be able to better judge the color.  Now SRM is officially taken through 1 cm of beer and my spoonfuls ended up at about 0.1″ (2.5 mm).  You aren’t measuring an exact SRM, but you are at least establishing a reference for the next time you make the candi sugar that will lead you down the path of repeatability.  The longer you keep at temperature, the darker the candi sugar will be.  Scroll to the bottom to see the results of my experiment of sugar color versus time.

Once you are happy with the color, raise to 300 degF (Hard Crack)

Raise to 300 degF… All you need to do is raise the temperature of the mixture to 300 degF then pour onto your silicone pad lined baking pan.

002-Candi Sugar - ready for sugar

Pour Some Sugar on Me!

Make sure you have a hot pad under the pan or you might do something unintentional with your countertop.  Also, be very careful when pouring.  300 degrees is HOT and you don’t want to burn yourself or splash any all over your nice kitchen.  It is a pain to clean up.

002-Candi Sugar - finished

Let cool

I was making dark candi sugar this time, so it is much darker than you would want in a Tripel.  It also adds some burnt caramel, smokey flavors to your beer.

Clean your equipment immediately

Just like your brewing equipment, it is much much easier to clean right after you are done with it than it is when it has been sitting around for a while.  The candi sugar will harden on everything and be much more difficult to clean off.  You can soak in hot water, but don’t wait for that water to cool.

Break into pieces

Once the candi sugar has cooled completely, simply peel the silicone mat off of the back of the candi sugar sheet.  You can also bend the sheet to help break the candi sugar into smaller pieces.  I typically just break into small enough chunks that it will fit into a gallon plastic storage bag.  Then I just chuck it in the freezer until brew day.

Nerd Alert!level_5

As I was letting the sugar darken, I took a tablespoon every 3-4 minutes in the beginning, then 5 then 10 minutes apart until I got to where I wanted it so that I could come up with some guess on time required for a certain darkness.  I dropped these samples onto a sheet of wax paper laid on top of a plain white sheet of paper on a cooking sheet.  YES, I know I told you not to use wax paper, but these samples were not going to be used for anything but color measurement.  Technically SRM is measured with a specific wavelength of light through 1 cm (0.4″) sample.  I measured the thickness my hardened samples and they measured 0.008″ to 0.012″.

 

002-Candi Sugar - different levels

There might be some equations out there to scale one thickness sample to the equivalent for SRM measurement.  So my measurements, although not actual SRM, are good enough for me to be able to repeat a certain darkness based on time or spot checking the value to my SRM color chart.  Below is a chart of “SRM” versus total cook time at 270 degF of my samples.

Plot of “SRM’ versus time (Your times may vary)

002-Candi Sugar - SRM vs Time

Source Data

002-Candi Sugar - SRM vs Time source data

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