Carboy

My homebrewing misadventures

The fruits of my labor

Sharing (and enjoying) the Czech Pilsner

My first chance to fill a growler for a friend from my kegerator.
The delicious Czech Pilsner, perfect for a hot August afternoon. From Carboy

Read the recipe.


By Tom on 08/08/2015

Stage: Enjoying

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Hard lessons

How to kill a keg (and a CO2 cylinder) in 15 minutes

After two months of cleaning, sanitizing, brewing, fermenting, sanitizing, kegging, carbonating and chilling, I was finally ready to have a taste of the American Wheat. It was approaching 90 degrees and sunny, a perfect day for a crisp, refreshing wheat ale.

I had been working on this new chest freezer kegerator for months, and I was eager to tap the first beer of the summer to course through the tubing and taps I assembled with my own two hands. So this afternoon, while we had a few friends and neighbors over for a brunch in the backyard, I thought the timing was perfect to tap the American Wheat.

I poured myself a pint. It was cool and delicious with the perfect head. I was feeling right pleased with myself. So I drew a few glasses for our guests and served them. Everyone ooh'ed and aah'ed and complimented the brewer. I was looking forward to having this beer on tap for the next few weeks of summer cookouts and relaxation.

About 10 or 15 minutes later, I thought I'd go back downstairs and throw the keg of Czech Pilsner into the kegerator to begin force-carbonating it. As I lifted the lid on the fridge, I heard an odd hissing noise, and I peered in to see this:

What three gallons of American Wheat looks like on the bottom of a kegerator. From Carboy

It took me a moment to process the picture in front of me. At first, I thought maybe just a little bit of beer had spilled out somehow, until I looked closer. It was about an inch-and-a-half deep. This wasn't just a bit of beer. It was all of the beer.

This was easily my worst day as a brewer, ever. Worse even than the time I had two bombers of chocolate maple porter explode in my closet, and I had to dump the rest of the batch untasted. I was beside myself.

After some investigation, it appeared that the nut that attached the tubing for the tap to the disconnect on the keg had come loose. So CO2 was rushing into the keg and forcing all of the beer out of the small gap. Three gallons of fresh, hand-crafted wheat beer was pooled on the floor of the kegerator. To add insult to injury, this very fast leak also emptied my 5-lb. CO2 tank. My kingdom for a really long straw.

I sucked all of the beer up with a shop vac. Two months of work and three gallons of beer literally down the drain. This was a simple lesson learned in one of the most heartbreaking ways: Always, always, always make sure your couplings are tight before you turn on the gas. If you don't, that sweet taste of a successful new brew will be very fleeting indeed.

The first pint of American Wheat from the kegerator. One of only five glasses to be poured.
From Carboy

By Tom on 07/25/2015

Stage: Thirsty

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A curious helper

Kegging the Czech Pilsner

From Carboy

By Tom on 07/18/2015

Stage: Bottling

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Nearing completion

Kegging the American Wheat

From Carboy

By Tom on 06/23/2015

Stage: Bottling

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On a roll

An American Wheat for a hot American summer

From Carboy, shortly after an unwatched brew kettle boiled over.

Read the recipe.


By Tom on 05/31/2015

Stage: Brewing

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Back in the saddle

A failed sparge, but hope nonetheless

From Carboy. Note the Census 2010 cup in background.

After nearly a year's break from brewing (though not brewhouse work--more on that to come), I finally carved out a little time to make a batch of beer. For my return, I thought a nice Bohemian-style pilsner would be fun.

I was itching to use the cooler mash tun that I inherited from my brother-in-law over the winter. So after doing a Friday night yeast starter, I spent the day brewing.

All seemed to go well, more or less. I'm pretty certain that for the multi-step infusion process, I completely miscalculated the amount of water I should add to bring my brew up to temperature at each stage of mashing. Then, my sparging was a bit of a disaster.

Before my next batch (I'm planning on a summer Weizen, soon), I really need to revisit some of Northern Brewer's how-to videos on sparging. I ended up with way more water for my boil than I needed, about a gallon more. And that's probably why my original gravity readings before pitching the yeast were about a tenth of a point lower than they should have been.

From Carboy

For me, brewing is as much an act of love as it is a science. The beer is still on track to be a very sessionable 3.49 percent ABV (though a bit shy of the intended 4.62 percent). So I'll be patient for the next five weeks of primary fermentation and lagering. In early July, we'll try it. Until we can taste it coming out of the keg, we'll defer judgment.

I'm sure it'll be fine. In brewing, as in war, time can repair many wounds.

Read the recipe.


By Tom on 05/16/2015

Stage: Primary

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Double Trouble

An idea so crazy, it just might work

From Carboy

For Father's Day this year, my gift to myself was a brew day. I invited over my friend John and his family. We quickly decided that since there were two of us brewing, we should really try to do two batches together.


From Carboy

So we set up a brew station in my driveway and had at it, in what was certainly my most ambitious brewing project to date. We did an Oktoberfest from my tried and true Northern Brewer Marzen recipe. Even though I forgot to do the yeast starter, it seemed to go well.

Because we wanted to drink something before September, we also did a batch from a great Saison recipe I found in the fantastic new Craft Beer and Brewing magazine.

By the end of the day, we were wore out from the effort of juggling two different mash schedules, chilling and pitching, but I'm certain the effort will pay off.

This brew day saw a number of firsts for me:

  • I got my grains and yeast from a new (to me) homebrew shop, the incredibly helpful Cask and Kettle
  • This was my first (and probably last) day of brewing two batches at once.
  • My first collaboration brews, with John.
  • My first recipe from a new source, Craft Beer and Brewing magazine.
  • Perhaps most importantly, this was the first time I used a propane floor burner. After more than four years of brewing on kitchen stovetops, this simple tool revolutionized my brewing in a way I haven't seen since I first got my immersion chiller. It was so much faster and better at keeping the temperatures of the mash and boil where they needed to be. After this, I can't imagine brewing any other way.

Now, we wait for our beers to ferment. Until then, we'll just have to drink a few good craft beers.

Read the recipe.


By Tom on 06/15/2014

Stage: Primary

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Delicious

The first pint from my first batch of kegged beer

From Carboy
 
The Bavarian Helles

By Tom on 09/05/2013

Stage: Enjoying

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Kegging my first batch

Fun with CO2

Finally, after nearly two months of lagering, my Helles was finally ready to be kegged. But before I could transfer the beer, I needed to clean and sanitize the used Cornelius (corny) soda keg I bought from Northern Brewer.
 
It's actually a fairly simple process, but I thought I'd share a couple of pointers I picked up along the way. Northern Brewer has a great series of videos explaining every step in the brewing process. They are worth taking a look, and I found the one on replacing the seals on a used keg to be especially helpful here. Basically, you need to remove the lid of the keg and the gas and beer posts, take off all the washers and seals and then clean it out. To get the gas post off, I found I needed a 7/8-inch, 12-point deep socket, which of course I didn't have. I found one at Home Depot for about $4.50.
 

From Carboy
 
Once I got the posts and lid off, I was able to disassemble everything, and I used a PBW solution to clean out any dirt or residue from the sodas that used to inhabit my keg. After cleaning, I sanitized the keg, put new seals in all the appropriate places, and I was ready to rack my beer into the keg.
 
From Carboy
 
I think it will suffice to say that kegging is so much faster, easier and cleaner than dealing with dozens of bottles. I almost feel silly for waiting this long to get a keg.
 
From Carboy
 
The last thing to do to prepare the beer for drinking was to carbonate it. I had bought a CO2 canister, but needed to find a company that would fill it for me. Strangely, the local homebrew shops in Essex and Passaic counties in New Jersey were unhelpful in recommending a good place, but through a little Googling, I eventually found City Fire Equipment in East Hanover, NJ. The guys there were friendly and helpful, and they were more than happy to fill my 5-lb canister for about $15.
 
With my CO2 ready, I hooked up my regulator and the hoses to the keg. It took me a couple of tries to get everything connected tightly. For about a day, I had a tiny leak coming out of the beer post on the keg. So I disconnected it all and re-tightened every nut and connection, and I now seem to be in good shape. I have my CO2 pressure set at 13 psi (recommended by iBrewMaster for this German style lager). And in a few days, my beer should be force-carbed and ready to drink.
 
From Carboy

By Tom on 08/25/2013

Stage: Bottling

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Sprucing up the cellar

For my birthday, my wife and her sister and brother-in-law did a little cleaning up of the brew cellar for me.
 
They gave everything a fresh coat of whitewash and hung these handy dandy shelves for some of my brewing equipment. This is turning into a pretty great space for my homebrew operation, which gives me all the more incentive to make more beer.
 

From Carboy

By Tom on 07/31/2013

Stage: Thirsty

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