Dispensing from small kegs in style

Many of us small batch brewers have decided to package our beers in something other than bottles. In a previous post I discussed different options and they all work but what about dispensing? Up till now we usually use a picnic tap with our corny kegs or just open a growler and pour a beer. Problems with that is picnic taps should have at least a 5 foot hose to offer resistance to provide a nice pour and opening a growler immediately starts to degrade the beer so you have to consume it quickly. Most us small batch brewers are also brewing/living in small spaces that don’t allow us the luxury of having a kegerator so we stick our small corny keg in our refrigerator and try to put the picnic tap and it’s hose somewhere out of the way.

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New from taproom.club

Now there is something new for us. I usually don’t review many products unless they are geared towards small batch brewing and I actually get to us one. Enter the tap taproom.club dispensing system. As you may know I have a PicoBrew Pico brewing appliance I use on occasion when I just want to brew something quick without much interaction in the process and have been happy with it. I follow a Facebook group for PicoBrew users and one day something popped up on the group…the taproom.club system. It was created by a Pico user in the Seattle area that wanted a better dispensing solution for the small kegs and even the 5L mini kegs that Pico users use. I immediately saw it as a great concept for, not only Pico users, but for small batch brewers. I had a couple online discussions with the taproom.club creator, Kechu Trevino, and was going to get one but he was selling them so quickly I kept missing the opportunity. After being notified that I was presenting at Homebrew Con I thought now is the time to get one. I got ahold of Kechu again and told him I would like to have something to take with to HomeBrew Con and he had a new production run and I was able to buy one. It drew a lot of attention at Homebrew Con but I didn’t really have a chance to use it because I was so busy with the preparation for the conference.

After the conference things slowed down and the vanilla porter I had fermenting was ready to keg so I tried it out.

One thing that impressed me was the flexibility of the system. It can dispense from small corny kegs (I use the 1.75 gallon ones), 5L mini kegs, keg style stainless steel growlers with screw on caps and even standard 64 oz glass growlers.

The biggest selling point to me was that it keeps everything together and sit nicely in the fridge. With the flow control beer faucet long lines aren’t required to get a nice pour. It has a built-in paintball tank CO2 regulator and uses 3.75 ounce paintball tanks (comes with two) that can be refilled at most sporting goods stores. The lines are connected to system with valved quick disconnects that allow you to switch lines easily without losing beer or CO2. Since they are connected with disconnects you can switch lines and use the included carbonating line. This connects the CO2 to the liquid out post on the corny keg and bubble the CO2 up through the beer to force carbonate it.

With different adapters you can dispense from 5L mini kegs (this accessory includes adapter cap for glass growlers), mini keg style growlers and glass growlers so the growler of craft beer you picked up from the local brewery or taproom will stay fresh and carbonated.

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5L Mini Keg and standard growler adapter.

I tried it out and was impressed with it’s simplicity and well thought out design. I used it first to force carb my porter, and then switching lines, to dispense it and using the flow control faucet got a nice pour. This all while taking up not much space in my fridge. Beer on tap and still room in the fridge for food.

They recently released a kit that allows you to attach the unit to the top of a bucket so you can place you small corny in the bucket with ice and take it with you to the park, camping or share with others where there isn’t a fridge. It is also available in two finishes now and they have a nice drip mat and line cleaning setup available.

If you need longer beer and gas lines for say a taller 2.5 gallon corny of if you want to set your keg to the side instead of having strapped in the back (I had to do this because my tiny fridge wasn’t as deep as a normal fridge), just contact them and they can help you.

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Excited to see new things made for us that brew small batches and I think this is a great product and made by a home brewer/entrepreneur.

Check it out at taproom.club

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Cheers!

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Fermenting under pressure?

Pressure fermentation is something I have been doing for a little while now with impressive results. You may or may not have heard of this method, it is certainly not common place. While not common it has value, especially to those with limited space or resources for fermentation temperature control.

How does it work? Well a simplified description is normal fermentation but instead of using a vented fermenter that allows the excess build up of CO2 to be vented through an airlock or blowoff hose you use a sealed fermenter. Completely sealed? Nope, for safety’s sake we want to limit the pressure build up. Through research brewers have found that ideally you want to keep the pressure that occurs during fermentation to less than 14-15 psi or 1 Bar. Fermenting above those pressures reintroduces off flavors and slowed yeast production.

Why would you want to do it?

Advantages are being able to ferment at temperatures considerably warmer than you would normally ferment at without producing unwanted esters and fusel alcohol. This even allows you produce lager like beers at room temperatures. Another plus is you will end up with naturally carbonated beer at the end of fermentation. Reduced krausen which allows for less required head space in the fermenter.

One of the biggest advantages to us small space brewers is this method lessens the need for consistent temperature control. Water baths require frequent attention and a fermentation chamber requires space.

What do you need?

Well not much…

  1. A pressure capable fermenter. Please do not attempt in a glass carboy. There are a few pressure rated fermenters on the market that are rated to 15 psi, such as some new Unitanks but most are rather expensive and large for small batches. Some stainless conicals are advertised to be pressure transfer capable but that is not the same as pressure rated. A simpler solution is the standard corny keg, inexpensive and you probably already have one. Most are rated to at least 135 psi and have a built-in safety pressure relief valve. They are available in 5, 3, 2.5 and 1.75 gallon sizes. I have used the 1.75 gallon and 2.5 gallon sizes as they match my batch size, will fit in my refrigerator to cold crash or traditional lagering after fermentation as well as dispensing. This is a nice advantage to small batch brewing as you can pressure ferment at room temperature and place the keg in your refrigerator to cold crash. I have a couple corny kegs that I use for just for this and I have shortened the liquid dip tubes by about 3/4″ so after fermentation is complete you can pressure transfer off any trub or yeast sediment to another keg.
  2. An accurate and adjustable pressure relief  valve, commonly known as a spunding valve that attaches to the gas in post of the corny keg. Several online retailers sell them, below is the one I use from Williams Brewing.

spunding valve

This allows you to set and maintain the pressure you want to ferment at and keeps the existing pressure relief valve in the corny keg lid is a safety device. Adjusting the spunding valve is easiest done on an empty keg that you have charged with CO2 above the pressure you want to set it to. Charge the keg and remove the CO2 line, connect the spunding valve and adjust the relief valve to the pressure you want and it stops venting. I have had positive results at 5-8 psi as well as 12 psi. The later resulting in better carbonation of the finished beer.

If you are thinking about trying a lager you should give White Labs WLP925 High Pressure Lager Yeast a try. I have used it twice with very acceptable results. Both lagers I brewed finished in 10-12 days and were fermented at ambient room temperature of 68-70 degrees fahrenheit.

Remember to avoid pressures over 1 Bar (14.5 psi) as this can reduce yeast cell growth and can introduce increased acetaldehyde (green apple off flavor).

There is some research and testing by home brewers including side by side comparisons of beers fermenting normally and pressure fermented. So if you want to learn more or see what others’ experiences have been you can search the internet for pressure fermenting. Brulosophy did a great experiment a few years back.

If you don’t have room for a fermentation chamber or don’t want to hassle with changing frozen water bottles in a water bath you might want to consider pressure fermenting.

Recently a Pilsner was brewed using this method at temps around 77 degrees and it won a gold medal in an international beer competition. Not too shabby.

There is something new for this method and perfect for small batch brewers so stay tuned for more news!

Cheers

Small batch brewing and brewing in small spaces.

As promised I am posting my session from the 2018 AHA Conference. If you weren’t able to make it to Homebrew Con here is what I discussed.

Small batch brewing, the next big thing in home brewing. Could it be for you? Don’t let size and space restrictions prevent you from enjoying the hobby.

Reasons for going small…

  • Small space, big cities have a growing number of small apartments
  • Maybe you want to brew more often while not having a ton of beer sitting around.
  • Want to try experimental batches.
  • Refine your technique.
  • You’re the only person consuming the beer.
  • Just want to keep the hobby simple.
  • Get back to the basics.
  • Want to start home brewing without a big commitment in equipment?
  • You want to save a little time and money.
  • Escape brewing outside, much nicer to brew inside when it’s freezing outside.
  • Lifting during brewing is physically difficult.
  • Life is getting in the way of brewing.
  • You don’t need a reason, it’s just plain fun!

Equipment –

  • Kettle. For one gallon batch a 12 quart is great and you may already have one. A kettle 2 to 2-1/2 times the batch size for BIAB. I use a 5 gallon kettle and it works great for 1 to 2.5 gallon batches and even an average gravity 3 gallon batch.
  • Fermenter – For 1 gallon batches a 2 gallon bucket for primary and one gallon glass jug for secondary works great. 2 to 2-1/2 gallon you can use a 3-5 gallon carboy.
  • Smaller siphon if using 1 gallon glass jugs/2 gallon buckets as fermenters. There is a short version of the Auto Siphon that works great.
  • Small scale, you will be using small amounts of hops and dry yeast so chose a scale that measures in tenths of an ounce and grams.
  • If you are doing all-grain brewing using a standard mash tun arrangement then choose one sized smaller to help retain heat such as a 12-16 quart rectangular cooler or a 2-3 gallon beverage cooler. A BIAB mesh bag can be used in place of a false bottom or manifold arrangement.
  • Other items such as air locks, stoppers, hydrometers, tubing, cappers and caps etc are same as used for normal 5 gallon batches.

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The brewing process –

The brewing process is basically the same whether you are brewing one gallon or 100 barrels. Extract, partial mash as well as all-grain can be done in small batches.

If you are completely new to home brewing there are many small batch equipment kits available from most of the major online home brewing retailers for 1 to 3 gallon batches. All contain the basic equipment you will need to begin brewing, some even have the kettle and beer bottles. This is where it is obvious that the industry has embraced the idea of small batch brewing, as little as 5 years ago there were few if any small batch equipment or ingredient kits available.

Already brewing? Most of your existing equipment can be used.

Small batch process considerations –

Volumes…

  • Calculate boil off rate of your kettle! This will allow you to get the amount of wort in the fermenter you want. Don’t boil too vigorously, you are starting with a small volume to begin with, a nice rolling boil is fine. If you haven’t calculated your boil off rate before, fill the kettle you will be using for brewing with two gallons of water and bring it to a nice rolling boil and boil for an hour. Let it cool and measure how much is left. The difference between the beginning and ending amount is your approximate boil off rate. Use that for calculating your pre boil amount. Double check it for a couple brew days to get an accurate rate.
  • Trub amounts will vary from beer to beer and when using different yeasts with different levels of attenuation but taking notes every once and awhile will give you a good idea. Err on the side of more than less, worst thing that will happen is you have an extra beer or two out of the
  • Keep notes on how much beer goes to bottles/keg for a few batches so you know how much trub to account for. Trub amounts will vary from beer to beer and when using different yeasts with different levels of attenuation/floculation but taking notes every once and awhile will give you a good idea. Err on the side of more than less, worst thing that will happen is you have an extra beer or two.
  • Recipe scaling. 2-1/2 gallon batch size is simple since you can just half everything in a 5 gallon recipe. One gallon batch you just divide ingredients in a 5 gallon recipe by 5. This will get you very close to what the original 5 gallon recipe was. Brewing software such as Beersmith will do the math for you.
  • Double check your units of measure! Home brew shops use different scales so if your recipe calls for .4 pounds of a malt make sure their scale is set correctly. Couple ounce error can be significant in a small batch especially with darker roasted grains. Same goes for hops.
  • Remember to scale down the yeast also, one can go really in depth in this area but generally speaking 2-3 grams of dry yeast per gallon is acceptable and will get you close to the recommended 1 million cells per milliliter of wort. For liquid yeast, I directly pitch a half packet of Wyeast per gallon and a whole pack for 2-3 gallon batches. White Labs recommends a whole vial for a 1 to 3 gallon batch especially for a big beer and a starter isn’t necessary and I have found that to work nicely. Having the chance to speak directly to the yeast companies about this at Homebrew Con was great and reassuring. Mr Malty’s Yeast Pitching calculator is also a great tool.
  • Testing specific gravity – Typically home brewers have used a hydrometer to test original and final specific gravity to monitor mash efficiency, fermentation process etc. Problem is takes precious beer to do this. Simplest thing is to just skip taking readings and let the beer ferment for 14 days. Refractometer. Uses a much small smaller sample size. Drops instead of ounces.Testing the standard method usually wastes about the equivalent amount of a bottle worth since you do not return the beer sample to the fermenter to prevent infection. Well when brewing a one gallon batch that much wasted beer hurts.Not testing …well if you are a home brewer with any experience that may be hard to do as we want to know what’s happening with our beer. One solution is to use a refractometer, which can measure the specific gravity with only a couple drops of wort or beer. The only problem is a refractometer doesn’t really work correctly when alcohol is present in fermented beer. If you record the original gravity and then get a final gravity reading there are several online calculators to give you a fairly accurate indication of alcohol by volume of your finished beer. A refractometer can still indicate if there is a change in specific gravity to indicate whether or not there is still fermentation activity. If you get the same reading three days in a row then typically it has finished. Personally after brewing so many batches and knowing my practices yield a consistent mash efficiency I am comfortable with just taking an original gravity reading to confirm my practices and then let it ferment for 14 days for ales. Recipe software is fairly accurate in predicting final gravity and ABV. At this point in my home brewing I am a firm believer in relaxing, not worrying and having a home brew. My golf game also improved and was more fun when I stopped keeping score.
  • Chilling your wort – With small batches it is easy to chill your wort to pitching temperatures by placing boil kettle in a cold water bath (kitchen sink) or ice bath. Small immersion wort chillers are available from several online retailers. My favorite is the compact immersion chiller from Coldbreak Brewing Equipment for $40. You can also make your own.

On to brewing…

Heating –

Stovetop or stand alone electric? Both are easy with smaller batches as less energy is required to bring 1-3 gallons to a boil. Stove top is the easiest and requires no special equipment. Where a stove top wasn’t a great option for 5+ gallon batches it works fine for small batches.

Electric systems – There are a few options for small batch stand alone electric BIAB systems including building your own.

Induction cooktops are a good option for small batches. 120V is great as it is capable of boiling small batches and is available in every home.

Brewing methods –

BIAB and traditional 3 vessel all-grain brewing methods are doable. BIAB being the easiest and requires the least amount of equipment and still you still get great results. All you need is a mesh bag and your kettle.

You can maintain mash temps during BIAB in a small kettle by covering the kettle with blanket or placing it in warm oven (150 degrees). Smaller vessels than usual for HLT, Mash Tun and Boil kettle. Small 3 gallon beverage cooler with BIAB bag or a small rectangular cooler with slotted manifold. Batch sparging also makes the process easier.

With a 3 vessel (HLT, Mash Tun and Boil Kettle) you will have to get creative but I have done the HLT on top of the fridge draining into the mash tun on the counter that drains into the boil kettle on a chair.

All-in-one systems –

All-in-one brewing appliances such as the Grainfather, Robobrew and the Mash and Boil have small batch capibilitues and don’t take up a ton of space, operate on 120V and can be stored in a closet when not in use.

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Bottling or kegging –

Bottling is a whole a lot less work when you are only bottling about 9-10 12 oz bottles with a one gallon batch. Less space is needed to have multiple batches conditioning or aging. Carbonating drops make it even easier. Swing top bottles eliminate having to have a capper and caps.

Kegging…yes you can!

Kegging options –

Using stainless steel growlers and available CO2 dispensing options you can keg as little as a half gallon.

Tradition corny kegs are available as small as 1.75 gallons as well as 2.5 and 3 gallon sizes. Kegs that small can be kept in your normal refrigerator, eliminating the need for a separate kegerator and saving space.

Personally I like corny kegs since the connections are all standard in home brewing and parts are easy to source.

Below on the left is a sneak peek at something new for small batch brewers that want to keg and easily dispense. Check it out here http://www.taproom.club

One the right is my refrigerator with a 1.75 gallon keg.

 

Now on to small space brewing!

Considerations –

Storage…

Biggest obstacle is storage! What can you do? Well here is what I have found to work.

Storage containers, nest smaller items in larger items, under-bed storage containers, top of closets, cabinet above the refrigerator.

An inexpensive new or used Armoire can provide attractive storage for all your brewing items that can fit in any decor.

Rolling kitchen island can do double duty, providing brewing storage as well as giving you additional kitchen work space and storage. I purchased a 24″ x 36″ stainless steel prep table that stores some of my brewing items and gives more counter space to brew, eat, prepare meals and work on my computer.

You can even store and hide your brewing gear in storage ottomans for your living room.

Collapsible items such as buckets and dish pans can be used for sanitizing, cleaning and don’t take up any space. These are available online through places such as Amazon.

A lot of my gear is in storage totes under my bed since I live in a tiny studio. In previous posts you may have see my brewing cart and made a nice cover for it. Use items that serve double duty such as your brew kettle can become a bottling bucket with a racking cane or if you have a drain valve installed.

Ventilation…

Ventilation is still important with small batches, especially in small spaces and if the room is cool. If you have a range hood that vents outside that would be more than adequate. If you don’t have a range hood but you have a window that opens in the kitchen or brewing space, a box fan can move a lot of air and accompanying humidity out of your space.

Fermentation space and temperature control…

  • Use stick-on strip thermometers on your fermenters to monitor temps.
  • Closets are a great space since they are dark, closed of from the rest of the home and do not have windows or heating/cooling vents so temperatures are more stable.
  • A digital thermometer with min/max feature can tell you the average temps of an area you might be considering to ferment in.
  • A small dorm/apartment refrigerator can become a temperature controlled fermentation chamber.
  • A simpler solution is a basic water bath. Place your fermenter in a container of water and use frozen water bottles to keep it cool or an aquarium heater in the water bath to keep it warm if needed. Check temp often.

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Pressure fermenting…

Fermenting under pressure. Pressure fermenting is gaining popularity as it allows for fermenting at a wide temperature range with less risk of having to worry about the production of off flavors such as fusel alcohol when fermenting too warm. Not a new practice but more people are trying it. A suitable pressure capable vessel is needed such as a corny keg. PicoBrew sells a replacement pressure relief for corny kegs that vents at a lower pressure to provide a safer fermentation process while using a corny keg. Or you can use a spunding valve. Ideally you want to ferment at pressures less than 14 psi. Above 14 psi yeast production can slow or stop and off flavors can begin to develop.

I have done several batches this way using a corny keg and spunding valve with no real temperature control and did not detect any off flavors. Kind of a poor man’s unitank.

Williams Warn from down under has their Brewkeg10 that allows for pressure fermenting batches up to 2.6 gallons as well as yeast harvesting, trub removal and dispensing from the same vessel. It is available in the US and has standard ball lock connections. Another example of manufactures embracing the small batch brewing popularity.

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This process will also carbonate your beer during the fermentation process.

Pros and cons of small batch brewing…

Pros –

  • More and more home brew shops and online retailers are carrying small batch ingredient and equipment kits.
  • There are even many purpose built pieces of small batch brewing equipment.
  • Heating times to reach your strike water temperature and bringing the wort to a boil are shorter with a smaller quantity of liquid.
  • Less/easier cleanup.

Cons –

Well you are making a smaller amount of beer so you may have to brew more. Wait, is that really a con?

So other than it taking almost as long to brew a one gallon batch as a ten gallon one there really isn’t a major downside to brewing on a small scale.

Well that was the presentation and I hoped I was able to give you some food for thought. Above all I hope you realize that wanting to go small isn’t a limitation but more of a method to making brewing work for you.

I will be posting more about the topic soon.

Cheers

 

AHA Homebrew Con 2018

Well I have to apologize again for lack of posts but a lot has been going on. Moved to Seattle for a new job, moved into a 270 sq ft studio micro apartment (literally brewing in a small space!) and probably the most exciting…

If you are thinking about or actually going to the 2018 AHA Homebrew Con in June I will be presenting a seminar on small batch brewing and brewing in small spaces! Very excited to see an interest in the topic to be chosen to speak. If you will be there come to the seminar and say hi.

Homebrew Con will be June 28-30 in Portland Oregon. Registration is open now on the AHA website. There will be a lot of knowledgable presenters and great stuff to see.

Now back to my other life happenings…yep I am living in a 270 sq ft studio micro apartment. Guess you could call it a “tiny house”. Excited to begin brewing again and sharing the experience with everyone. Some of my brewing gear just won’t fit in my new place (sadly my kegerator is in storage) but there are still ways to make home brewing in such a small space work.

New things for us small batch brewers

Well after much uncertainty I have finally made it back to the Pacific Northwest and there is much beer and it is good! My brewing stuff is currently boxed up for now but I’m always looking at all that is happening with brewing and in particular, small batch brewing. It is exciting to see there is a continued focus on small batch brewing and some new things out there us. One company, Synek, is a producer of craft beer dispensers that allow you to keep craft beer, that you picked up in a growler, fresh and ready to dispense from their countertop chiller. It is a pretty robust and quality piece of equipment that uses Perlick faucets and paintball CO2 tanks with a real pressure regulator. It will hold two 64oz standard growlers (one on tap and one chilling) or one of their one gallon cartridges. I personally love the fact they created an adapter for the standard growlers because that is the industry standard.

They have been around for sometime but now they are diving into the home brewing side. They have tips on how to use their Synek dispenser for home brewed beer and that is a nice way to have your home brew on tap without the space commitment required by a kegerator. Little spot on your countertop and fresh draft beer (brewed by you or from your favorite brewery) available on tap. And you get some room back in your fridge for food…guess food is a necessity and a lot of it goes with beer.  One note is that I’m going to be trying PET plastic 64oz growlers (available from several online sources) for bottle conditioning in as I feel they are safer than glass. Many people bottle successfully in glass growlers but I’m still a little leary. Stay tuned for my first hand experience with those.

Now this isn’t a advertisement for Synek, I have their dispenser and I think it has merit for the small space/batch brewer and it is a quality piece of equipment, they are going one step further. Home brewing ingredient kits for one gallon batches. These will be available in December sometime and additional variations added as they are available. Several of the first recipes will be recipes I believe they have crafted and here is the exciting part…some that are real craft brewery recipes! They are partnering with craft breweries to bring some of their recipes to homebrewers. They will also have how-to videos, tips and tricks posted and they even have a nice one gallon hardware kit that actually has everything you need. Check them out here Synek

As soon as their one gallon recipe kits are shipping I will be giving one a try to get something brewing around here and report back after it’s ready to drink. Watch for that post soon.

Have any of you found a different way to dispense your home brew than the traditional bottling or corny kegs? Leave a comment below.

Cheers

What’s in a name?

Hello everyone. Just wanted to explain the new blog name. It’s the same blog but with my focus having been on brewing small batches and brewing in small spaces I thought the name of the blog should reflect that better. If you followed the old blog click on the “Follow” button on the right side of this page to follow the new blog so you don’t miss any updates. If you are a new visitor follow me and keep brewing! More exciting changes to come.

Cheers!

What’s happening?

Just wanted to post what is going on in my life. I apologize I haven’t posted in awhile but life has been busy. I am about to make a big move back to Washington state very soon and the move has a lot of uncertainty so there has been a little stress. It’s time for me to leave North Dakota and in the end it will be for the best so I need to focus on that for a little while. Hopefully I’ll be brewing again soon and working on finishing a few projects that I am looking forward to sharing here.

I continue to watch what is happening in home brewing, new developments and some of the new products available. Small batch brewing and brewing in small spaces is still growing in popularity and I think it will continue to be a trend the industry can’t ignore. Why not pursue a hobby regardless of your time or space requirements? Thankfully everyone can with home brewing.

On a more serious note I want to talk about your local home brewing supply shops. Many cities are fortunate enough to have one or more. These small businesses are a source for not only brewing supplies but information, ideas, help and provide a feeling of community amongst home brewers. Sadly I am hearing about more and more of these small shops closing. There a lot of reasons a small business closes but nationally, small businesses have been hurt by online shopping and home brew shops are no different. Large online retailers have tremendous buying power that provides them the opportunity to offer lower prices and there is the convenience factor of never having to leave your home. Your local shop may only order a few sacks of 2-row where a large online retailer will order pallets of bags of 2-row. So with just that in mind your LHBS may have higher prices but like all small businesses they have overhead like business insurance, business loan payments, utilities, employee salaries, medical insurance premiums, a house payment, car payment, little junior’s braces and college fund etc. Not to mention often a building lease payment (most home brewing wholesale companies will not allow you to buy from them unless you have an actual store front so no doing business from your garage).

Things your LHBS offer that the big online retailers don’t…immediate access to brewing supplies, no shipping costs or waiting. Need a pack of yeast on brew day? They will have you covered. Need a single drilled stopper? They have it for you and you don’t have to pay $10 shipping for that $2 stopper. Have a question or just want to talk about brewing…your LHBS. Many LHBS offer deals for local brewing club members and some even offer their space to host those clubs for meetings. They often have brewing classes. Many will special order something you want but they don’t carry. Some will store that 50 pound sack of 2-row you bought from them, so you don’t have to find a place in your tiny apartment, and then mill it for you at your convenience. They also are the cornerstone for the community feeling us home brewers have. For me I don’t get that feeling of community when I click on the “checkout” button on a website. Local small businesses also put money back into the community and often provides jobs so it is a win win.

When I started home brewing in Seattle in 1989 I basically was a regular fixture at the local home brew shop in the Greenwood neighborhood and learned so much. I immediately felt accepted into the hobby. I later helped at another home brew shop and it was rewarding to help new and experienced home brewers. I was fortunate to have lived in a city with a couple great LHBS but then moved to a city with none. I had no choice but to order supplies online and wait. When I did order online I chose an online retailer that is also a small business and not owned by a major corporation. Many LHBS have an online side to their business and that is a bonus to us that live in a town without a local shop. Yes online shopping often saves you money, and brings you many choices that local shopping might not. Those two things have helped the hobby grow but remember many of us began home brewing with a visit to a local home brew shop. The interweb is great for shopping but don’t forget the local home brew supply store in your town, they are home brewers like you and I that took the leap to open a small business to help follow home brewers. Just like we home brewers support craft breweries because most were started by home brewers with a dream, try to support small home brew shops. If you haven’t visited your LHBS, stop in and say hi.

With that being said I do occasionally promote or give a plug to an online retailer or specialty business but I only do so because they are small businesses, we can all access, that promotes the hobby, promotes small batch brewing, support their local home brewers and offer great service.

I’ll step off my soapbox. As always I appreciate everyone visiting my blog and hope you all get at least a little inspiration from it.

Keep brewing, subscribe to the blog updates and stay tuned.

Cheers.

BIAB Water Calculations

Just a quick post to share a handy BIAB water calculator I found and like using. There are several out there but I found this one easy to use and gave me spot on volume results. It also shows what the total volume of the mash will be including grain and water which makes it easy to figure out if it will fit in your kettle, great for us small batch brewers.

https://www.easycalculation.com/other/embedded_biab-calculator.php

Automated and countertop brewing options

Automated?!? That adjective seems to draw comments like “takes all the fun out of brewing” or “that’s nothing more than a Keurig for brewing” or “I want to be hands on in the brewing process”. Well having come from completely non automated brewing and slowly progressing into somewhat automated brewing I have to say it does have it’s place in homebrewing and certainly in small batch/small space brewing for several reasons but probably the most appealing is control and consistency. With consistency comes repeatability.

First let’s look at what automated means in home brewing. There are varying degrees or levels of automation and if you look at them they are not really “push a button and you have beer” automated. I think if that level of automation should ever come to be, would be at the same level as going to the pub or tap room and asking for a beer and shazaam there is a beer in front of you.

Let’s start by looking at what they all have in common with more traditional backyard/kitchen home brewing methods?

  • Recipe selection – What do you want to brew? You either create a recipe, use one someone else has created or even buy an ingredient kit.
  • Ingredients – You buy the ingredients with everything measured out and grains milled or you measure out everything and mill grains yourself.
  • Add ingredients – you dump your measured ingredients (including water), either into a mash tun, kettle or a bin in a machine.
  • Clean up the mess – you have to dump grains, clean up hop and hot break trub, you have to clean your equipment.
  • Fermenting – you have add yeast and keep fermenter in a temperature controlled area.
  • Dispensing – you have to rack, bottle or keg your finished beer.

I think we can all agree, especially when it comes to clean up and bottling, these are very “hands on” aspects of home brewing.

Levels of automation –

  • None – You do everything by hand and control temperature by fiddling with burner valve or stove knob while watching a thermometer and control time by watching a clock.
  • Slight – You use a mill to crush your grains, you use a pump to transfer wort but you still have very basic temperature and time control.
  • Moderate – You add some sort of basic electronic process control for temperature control such as a PID or electromechanical  thermostat that controls your burner. Some of these also offer basic timer capability. (This is where a growing number of home brewers are at)
  • Moderately techie – You go with a computer based process control such as the Brew Boss, BrewTroller, Brewery Control System, BrewPi or similar control. These add a graphical user interface, pump automation and total temperature/time control.
  • Moderately techie all in one – This would be the PicoBrew Zymatic, PicoBrew Pico, Brewie. These are a brewing appliance that is self-contained with web-enabled computer based time/temperature control, pump automation and require little or no interaction by the user during the mash and brew process. They handle the introduction of hops during the boil period by redirecting wort through hop compartments.
  • Advanced – This would be extensions of the BrewTroller, BCS and BrewPi which add automated solenoid valves for water and wort flow and in some cases volume measurement so water/wort levels are controlled for you. They also can handle automated wort chilling at the end of the boil. These are also very DIY from the aspect of construction and the software side as they are open source platforms.

The brewing appliances such as the Brewie, PicoBrew Zymatic and Pico are automated to a degree but there is still plenty for the brewer to do.

The Brewie has not been released yet but appears to add water volume control as it requires a water connection.

The PicoBrew Pico is the most basic and is targeted at people that might be completely new to home brewing and want to start brewing their own beer . It offers 5L recipe kits, called Pico Paks, based on recipes submitted by craft breweries. This allows you to brew beers that sound appealing but you may never get to taste due to limited distribution by the breweries. PicoBrew is also working on creating Freestyle Pico Paks that allow you to brew your own recipes and they send you the ingredient pak with the ingredients you have chosen.

The PicoBrew Zymatic has been around since 2013 and is their more professional machine that allows the brewer to brew any 2.5 gallon recipe he or she creates with their own ingredients as well as access recipes from other Zymatic owners through the company’s website where the Zymatic owner creates and stores their recipes.

They are all small batch capable, have a small footprint for those with small space requirements and operate on standard 120V electrical service.

Countertop systems such as the Grainfather (technically sits on the floor) have moderate automation with a pump and have temperature control, operate on 120V and require little space. The Grainfather also can brew smaller batches as well as standard 5 gallon batches. The Grainfather has been successfully used for several years by home brewers in Australia and New Zealand before being released in the USA.

While these are certainly more expensive than your kettle on the stove method of brewing they also combine many elements of brewing equipment into one unit thus reducing space and equipment requirements.

When the Zymatic was the first brewing appliance to hit the market in 2013 I had the same initial feelings as most but after doing more research and reading reviews and owner’s experiences I realized it is a sound brewing process. Several AHA National competition winners brewed their beers on the Zymatic and many craft breweries are using them for recipe development.

Are these brewing appliances for everyone? No. Are they, or some sort of automation something to at least consider? Definitely, based on your budget. I just aquired a used PicoBrew Zymatic and while I haven’t brewed on it yet I am excited to start. I did have to perform some maintenance on the machine because it wasn’t taken care of so I can attest to the value. The construction, engineering and development that went into it, and most likely the other systems, makes them worth every penny. Will I abandon my current system? Nope because it produces good beer and I designed it for my situation and brewing style and ultimately I enjoy brewing on it.

I guess the biggest appealing factor to me about some level of automation is the ability to relax while I brew and focus on the beer itself, the ingredients and what they contribute to the final product and have that consistency and control that automation provides.

Cheers