Custom Taps for My Wedding Brews

I brewed four batches of home brew for my wedding (May 18th, 2013). I made a collection of crowd pleasers, one of which I hadn’t made before. My wife named them for the wedding; she’s a big punner.

  • Munich Dunkel Lager – This is the new one. It turned out awesome! It was my favorite. Named Bonn’s Dunkel
  • American IPA – This was my least favorite, but I think it was the crowd’s favorite. Not horribly bitter, but loads of dry-hop flavor. Named Hoppily Ever After
  • Lagered Blonde Ale – My second favorite. A nice lawnmower beer that I lagered for about five weeks. When I first crashed it in the lager fridge, I got chill haze. Wasn’t happy about that. But after a couple weeks, it all fell out and left me with the clearest ale I’ve made to date. Named He Said “I Brew”
  • Oatmeal Porter – My recipe for oatmeal porter. A reliable, smooth, and rich porter. Almost a stout but a little on the sweet side. Named For Richer For Porter

My dear friend Brian surprised me with tap handles for all the brews! (Same guy that works at Sierra Nevada and acquired the jockey boxes). Check em out! Thanks Brian!

Custom Tap Handles for my Wedding - Thanks Brian!

Custom Tap Handles for my Wedding – Thanks Brian!

Jockey Box

Jockey Boxes for My Wedding

I’m getting married in about seven weeks! It’s gonna be a fun party!

I’m brewing up four corny kegs of beer. This will be the only beer at the wedding, with the exception of whatever BYOB happens.

My good friend, Brian, who works up at the new Sierra Nevada brewery in Mills River, NC, managed to acquire two Jockey Boxes for us to use at my wedding! A huge, massive thanks to Brian & Sierra Nevada for the help! Sierra Nevada uses these for smaller, miscellaneous events.

The Wedding Venue

Our wedding venue has no electricity (by design). There are generators available for powering stuff during the reception, but I really didn’t want to deal with hauling kegerators and tons of ice. Plus picnic taps aren’t the best solution, as we’re looking at about 150 people or so, and with parties that size, the taps always end up in the grass and get all nasty.

Jockey boxes to the rescue!

Jockey Box

Jockey Box

Coils Inside the Jockey Box

Coils Inside the Jockey Box

What is a Jockey Box?

A jockey box is a portable serving cooler for kegs of beer. You simply hook up your pre-conditioned or carbonated kegs to the inputs, fill the cooler with ice water, and keep your kegs at serving pressure. When you open up the tap, beer is pulled from the keg, through the coils (which are submerged in ice water) to cool, and out the tap. Your kegs don’t even have to be cold! The coils take care of that.

Clean up is a snap. Just run some clean water and sanitizer through the coils and voila, cleaned! The majority of the mess stays in your kegs, where it belongs.

Thanks again!

Again, a huge thanks to both Brian Flanders and Sierra Nevada for their kindness and willingness to help out!

Toasted Grains

Toasting Grains at Home

I’m gonna brew a small, one-gallon batch of nut brown ale real soon. Today I decided to toast a pound of American 2-row malted barley for the nut brown ale.

Using John Palmer’s guide to toasting grains, i decided to go for a “light nutty taste and aroma”. I toasted a pound of grains, dry, for 15 minutes at 350°F, on two separate cookie sheets, to get as close to a single layer of grains as possible. I used dry whole grains, uncrushed.

About 9 minutes in, the whole house filled with one of the loveliest smells I’ve ever encountered! It’s truly a beautiful thing. The smell alone is worth toasting grains, even if you never use them for anything!

I did get a bit of Rice Krispies action – a few snaps, crackles, and pops – during the first ten minutes or so. Nothing to worry about. They subsided quickly enough.

After 15 minutes at 350F, the grains certainly browned up a bit. Surely I could’ve gotten some more color out of them if I toasted a bit longer, but they’re just dandy. They look and smell absolutely delicious!

I also let them cool away from the heat to prevent any additional cooking.

Palmer recommends letting the toasted grains rest in a brown paper bag for at least two weeks before using, to allow the harsher flavors to escape. He also mentions that commercially toasted grains typically rest for six weeks prior to being distributed.

Of course, I had to taste a couple of them. There were some slightly harsh flavors. Surely these will go away while resting in a brown paper bag for a few weeks. Harsh flavors or not, the grains are quite tasty. Reminds me of the joy of tasting fresh, homemade granola.

Brewer's Yeast

Lager is a Noun and a Verb

As a home brewer and beer enthusiast, I often end up discussing brewing with friends and acquaintances. The subject of Lagers vs Ales often comes up.

A simple distinction

The distinction comes down to the yeast strain.

Lager yeast is bottom-fermenting, meaning the real action during fermentation happens at the base of the fermentation vessel.

Ale yeast is top-fermenting, meaning the action happens at the surface of the liquid.

That’s the only main difference.

Lager is a German verb that means “to store.” That’s it. Lager is a verb. You can lager anything from beer in a fridge to your wife’s Christmas decorations in the attic.

But lager has also come to refer to a type of beer: those that are made with lager yeast.

An important point to note is that you can lager ales, as well.

For example, I brew my Grasscutter Blonde Ale a few times a year. It’s an ale, but I like to lager it for a few weeks in my lagering fridge. This recipe is brewed with ale yeast (usually White Labs California Ale Yeast [WLP001]) but I lager it for a few weeks before kegging. It’s still an ale in the end; it’s just a lagered ale.

Lagering this ale results in a cleaner, crisper finish. And the ale is almost crystal clear after just a few weeks.

Boiling a Few Hours after Mashing: An Experiment

Yesterday I brewed a batch of The Noble Gnome, a Noble Blonde Ale. But I had to go to a kid’s birthday party at 1pm for a few hours. So, I either had to wake up early on a Sunday and brew early, or I had to brew into the late evening after I got home from the birthday party. Neither option sounded great.

So I did an experiment. I mashed and lautered (batch sparge) before the party. Then I boiled the batch after the party. The wort sat for about 3 hours or so total before the boil.

The boil appeared to go just fine, just as usual. Fermenting is taking place now (looking good!), and all seems well, just like normal. Hopefully I won’t face any repercussions down the road from doing this. I’ll post an update in a few weeks with some results…

Inside of mash tun

Batch Sparging for the First Time

I’ve been fly-sparging (continuous sparging) ever since I started brewing all-grain. I’d heard about batch sparging soon after I started brewing all-grain, and I’ve been wanting to give it a shot. I’m only getting about 75% efficiency on fly-sparging anyway, so if batch sparging makes an easier brew day, then why not just batch sparge? The caveat is that your efficiency is lower, so you just have to purchase an extra pound or so of grain. At a buck and a bit per pound, that’s no big deal at all.

I had a 50 quart Coleman XTREME5 cooler hanging around that I’d bought for camping about a year ago, and I found a good video on converting one of these exact coolers to a mash tun.

So Saturday I went up to Lowes and picked up all the parts. I built the mash tun in about an hour and left some water to sit for several hours to test for leaks. All good!

Ball Valve Mounted to Cooler

Ball Valve Mounted to Cooler

Inside of mash tun

Inside of mash tun

And yesterday I brewed a “McRed Irish Bastard Ale.” It’s my own recipe and is very experimental. I gave batch sparging a shot.

A few mistakes I made when batch sparging

I didn’t calculate the thermal mass of the mash tun.

I assumed that this mash tun’s thermal mass would be a bit higher than the cylindrical 5-gallon cooler I’ve been using for mashing. So I heated my strike water a bit hotter, around 176F. After doughing-in, the temperature settled around 159F. Too hot. I was shooting for 151F.

So I added some ice and stirred, little by little. Each ice cube removed less than 1F. Eventually, I added some water to bring the temperature down quicker. Too much water. Temperature settled around 146F. Too cool.

At this point, the mash had already been sitting for about 30 minutes too hot as I tried to get the temperature down. I let it be at 146F for another half hour.

I then drained the first runnings out of the mash tun, recirculating the first 2 quarts or so for clarity. I struck the second batch at 154F, and my temperature landed around 151F. Good. I let this sit for another 30 minutes and then drained again.

Pre-boil gravity hit about 1.037, which is just about right for this recipe.

I didn’t intend to do a multi-step infusion

Since my temperatures were so off (as above), I ended up doing a multi-step mash in the opposite order. I intended to do a simple single-step infusion mash.

Roughly, I mashed at about 158F for 20 minutes, then at 146F for about 15 minutes, then at 151F for another 30 minutes. Weird, but the beer is fermenting along just fine today.

I think this batch is going to turn out just fine but with a lot more body than I intended for this recipe, but I think it’ll be plenty drinkable.

I’ll try batch sparging again

Next brew, I think I’ll give batch sparging another shot. This time, I know my tun’s approximate thermal mass, so I should have a much easier time hitting my mash temps.

All in all, batch sparging is much easier than fly-sparging, and my efficiency is nearly the same.  Why not make things easier?