Category Archives: Nerd Alert!

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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Refrigerator Conversion Part 6 – Finishing up and other observations

Here are some final thoughts on my refrigerator conversion and other related observations.
If you missed the first post, start here: Part 1: Introduction
That post has a run down of most of the materials, tools and supplies needed for this project.

Difficulty: level_4

This project requires a few inexpensive special tools, but will most likely take an entire weekend, lots of improvisation, some thorough cleaning and the cost of the fridge takes it to level 4.

Posts for this Project:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Clean up
Part 3: Disassembly
Part 4: Door modification
Part 5: Shelf building
Part 6: Finishing up and other observations (this post)

Pros and Cons of other setups I’ve seen:

A/C units to cool down a fermentation chamber

I had serious reservations about the ability of a window air conditioner to maintain 34 degF in a cabinet of sufficient size in the middle of summer, let alone have enough capacity to lower the temperature of your fermenting beer at any reasonable speed

Dorm fridge powered fermentation chamber

I know this seems to be all the rage with fermentation chambers, but again, I didn’t see how it would be able to handle the cooling needs of a chamber of the size that I needed.

Gutting a full size fridge and re-installing those components in a customer insulated chamber

This was my “ultimate” plan from the beginning, but when I planned out the costs of the wood, the insulation and the FRP panels to line the inside, I was close to double or tripel (see what I did there) the cost of the fridge itself.  I then had the realization that if I found a fridge large enough, the capacity of the freezer alone would be enough to serve my needs.

Temperature Controller:

A temperature controller is a MUST for any fermentation cabinet.  My first controller for my keezer was the Ranco ETC-111000 single stage temperature controller.  I’ll have a post about my wiring at some point.

There are plenty of options out there.  For this lagering fridge as well as my other two converted dorm fridges, I actually made a simple Arduino based temperature controller.  There isn’t really anything novel about them, except that I wanted the challenge of designing my own system.  Below is a picture of the controller setup I’ve got on this lagering cabinet that I just built.  Basically the Arduino controller has a temperature probe inside the fridge to detect temperature and it cycles the fridge on and off through a relay box to maintain temperature.  The display on the box shows 3434.  It’s my simplified way of showing a setpoint of 34 degF and a cabinet temperature of 34 degF.

012 - Temperature Controller

Google search for Arduino Temperature Controller

 

I do however have a Raspberry Pi and am looking at going to the BrewPi setup or some derivative.  I really geek out on that stuff and it gets me really excited when I think about that possibility.  Here are some good links:

Official BrewPi

Home Brew Talk thread on using all the BrewPi code, but a standard Arduino

Small Tip for the Newbie

If you are new to temperature control, note that for best results, you need to set your fridge or freezer to maximum cold and let the temperature controller do the rest.  All of these temperature controllers basically power cycle the fridge/freezer on or off to control the temperature.

How to move a fridge from point A to point B:

You’ll hear many times that you can’t lay a fridge on it’s back or it will ruin the compressor.  This is half-true.  You can lay a fridge on it’s back to transport it, BUT when you get it to your house, you just need to get it upright so that the compressor fluid drains back into the compressor before it is powered on again.  I generally just get it to my garage, get it upright again and let it sit overnight.  I’ve done this 4 times with no dead fridges.

As an FYI, we’ve got a 2005 Honda Odyssey and with the middle seats taken out and the back seats folded into the floor, it has fit all 4 of those fridges inside with the tailgate all the way closed.  If you have a trailer, more power to you.

Oh, another important tip.  Remove all of the shelves from the fridge before laying it on it’s side.  All of those things are meant for gravity to hold them in place and when you put the fridge on it’s back, they all usually fall out of their slots.

What I tried to do with another fridge (drilling FAIL):

I was always under the impression that every important mechanical component was either at the back or underneath.  I was proven wrong one time when attempting to install a draw catch latch to a fridge.  I started drilling the pilot hole in the side of the fridge for the screws and the psssssssshhhhhh of the magic refrigerant come blowing out.  RIP fridge.

Simplified explanation of how a refrigerator works:

A refrigerator is simply a mechanical system that removes heat from an insulated cabinet.  That’s as far as I’m going with that.

You may also hear someone tell you that a refrigerator won’t work in a garage.  The reason behind this is that when the ambient temperature gets below the internal temperature of the freezer or close to it, the temperature difference gets closer to zero (T_ambient – T_freezer).  An A/C compressor or refrigerator compressor system relies on a temperature difference to function, so if you take away this difference, it won’t function properly.

Having said that, we live in central Indiana and have 3 refrigerators and one deep freezer in our garage.  We only have a problem with our primary overflow fridge with the ice maker in deep winter, where it doesn’t produce enough ice.  Except during long cold spells (where it can get close to freezing), our garage is usually about 55 degrees in the areas directly adjacent to a living space and in our bump out (furthest away) it is maybe low 40’s.

The more unknown part is that almost all top and bottom refrigerators are essentially a freezer on top that does all the work and bleeds cold air to the refrigerator compartment.  If you get to tearing one apart, you’ll see this.  Also if you’ve ever had a fridge with weak magnetic seals, you may notice that when you slam one of the doors, the other one pops open.  That’s because they are linked.

That’s all folks…Thanks for reading!

 

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Grain Storage

Grain Storage

Difficulty: level_1

Time Required:

As long as it takes you to replace a trash bag.  Maybe more if you decide to nerd yourself out.  Keep reading to the bottom if this is you.

Cost:

Less than $5 per bucket assembly.

Background:

So if you are serious about brewing and want to save money in the long run, you are most likely buying your most used grains in bulk.  If you don’t want those savings to go to waste, you need to store the grains in a way that doesn’t degrade the quality of the grain.

Required:

5 Gallon bucket + lid of your choosing
food safe bag

“Let’s do this”:

Whenever I choose a storage solution, I try to find something readily available where that exact same container can be purchased again at some later point in time.  I arbitrarily chose Homer buckets from Home Depot.  Maybe I fell for their marketing scheme of having them available everywhere you look in the store for a reasonable price, but hey, they work.  So now, I just buy these buckets so everything matches.

What is convenient is that each bucket holds just about 25 pounds of grain.  So what I usually do is buy the 50 pound bag of ‘Merican grain when I’m going to use it, then the remainder always fits in two buckets.  The same goes for when I get the 55 pound bags of “Ferrin” grain.

So choose your bucket and then decide which lid you will use.

008-Grain Storage-Crappy lids

Do not buy these lids!  They tempt you with the “easy removal” line, but upon the first or second removal of this lid, this will occur.

008-Grain Storage-Sealed Lid

This is what I buy.  They are a few cents more and in my opinion, worth so much more.

008-Grain Storage-Seal on lid

These lids have a rubber seal, which helps keep moisture out.

008-Grain Storage-Lid as Received

The lids do have this one time seal feature, but just go ahead and pull it off.  If you are just the slightest bit careful, you can remove these lids over and over again.

008-Grain Storage-These lids crack too

 

You might get a crack in the lid where the stress “reliever” is, but as long as it doesn’t go beyond the rubber seal, you should still be ok.

If you want the ultimate in awesomeness, go for the Gamma lids.  I personally don’t use these for my grains, because the highest frequency I need to access my grains is every two weeks and I can cope with the standard lids.  I do however use them for our bulk dog food storage and hay for our guinea pig, since we store them in the garage and we access them every day.

The Gamma lids are surprisingly decently well priced at Home Depot ($7-8).

Ok, enough about lids already!

Since it is mostly accepted that the plastic used in most 5 gallon buckets is not rated as food safe, lets just add another layer of protection.

Once you have decided on your bucket / lid combo, just place a food safe plastic bag liner in the bucket.  Reference my post on food safe bucket liners to get an idea on where to get these bags.

008-Grain Storage-Twist bag

 

Not much to explain really.  Put the bag in the bucket and pour your grains in.

008-Grain Storage-Tuck Bag

I then twist the top of the bag and tuck it in the side of the bucket.  Then just put your lid on.

Labeling

Per my post on Easy Fermenter Labels, I just used gaffers tape to note the grain type and amount of grain in the bucket.  See “Nerd Alert” at the end of this post to determine the amount of grain in the bucket.

008-Grain Storage-Label Contents

Moisture control

Ok, so I admit, I had been using muslin bags filled with rice for “moisture control”.  After some reading on the internet (so it must be true), I came to the conclusion that rice is a poor desiccant.  I fell for the commonly held belief that it absorbed moisture because they use it in salt.  Well, it seems that rice is used in salt shakers to prevent clumping.  Sodium chloride is actually a better moisture absorber.  It all makes sense now, because the container I store our ice melter in always has a pool of water on top.  Now I just say (my opinion here) that if you won’t be using the grain within 3-6 months, you probably aren’t making the best of purchasing grain in bulk.

Nerd Alert!level_5

Ok, so if you aren’t using all of your grain at once, you’ll probably want to know how much grain you have left.  What I do is weigh the bucket plus the bag liner before pouring the grain in.  This is my tare weight.  So whenever I need to know how much grain is left, I just weigh the grain bucket with the grain in it and subtract the tare weight.

008-Grain Storage-Tare Bucket

I also note the date each time I weigh, because I know myself and I know that if I just put the weight on there, I will wonder if it was before or after a certain brew an then end up re-weighing the grain.

008-Grain Storage-Stacked Buckets

So here is “Fermentation Central” in my basement.  Two batches of Cream Ale fermenting, next to my stack of grain storage buckets and my two dorm fridges converted to fermentation chambers.  The top one is running intermittently (had since college) and the bottom one is facilitating a German Alt.

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