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Topics - galapagos jim

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1
Beer Travel / Las Vegas road trip: where to fill my growlers?
« on: March 08, 2014, 08:59:20 PM »
Every year in April the office is sends me to Las Vegas for the big convention. This year, instead of flying, a buddy and I are going to road-trip it between Seattle and LV and back. This means I'll get to bring back some growlers!

I'm kinda familiar with the Vegas beer scene from previous years. I plan to hit up Big Dog's because I liked them in the past, and Tenaya Creek because I've never been there. What else?

We'll try to hit breweries on the road, too, but we're likely going to stay off the main highways. No set route and recommendations welcomed.

2
Beer Travel / New York beer report
« on: October 22, 2013, 03:48:09 PM »
Just spent a few days in New York on vacation. Here are a few notes about the breweries and beers I found.

Singlecut Beersmiths in Astoria, Queens was the big hit. They're small and have been open less than a year. Bit of a pain to get to; take the 7 train to the end of the line in Astoria, then walk about a mile further. Don't mind the walk, it's a good neighborhood and worth the travel distance. They have dedicated lagering tanks, and their lagers were pretty good. The Olympic White Lagrrr especially, and the rum-barrel aged schwarzbier on nitro was a standout. For music fans, there's a well-equipped stage above the office and a selection of vinyl behind the counter.
http://www.singlecutbeer.com/

Brooklyn Brewery was a bit of a hassle. Don't get me wrong: the beer was good and the brewery space was nice. The problem was getting there from Queens; subway track work required transferring to a shuttle, and I wasn't sure which station to use and then had trouble with my MetroCard... By the time I got to Brooklyn it was 6pm on Saturday evening and the tasting room was packed and loud and the line for beer was almost out the door. You have to go through a two-step process, buying tokens first at the merch booth (it sounds like a hassle but it makes the beer line go a lot faster). After I got my beer there was no place to sit, so I hung out next to the fermenters. On the upside, another lonely beer geek was on the bench next to me, so I made a friend.

Everything I drank from Brooklyn (both at the brewery and elsewhere in the city) was solid, but didn't impress me in the way Singlecut did. Belgian pale, saison, bier de garde, Oktoberfest. There's an AHA discount at Brooklyn but I completely forgot about it when I was there.

Peekskill Brewery was recommended to me by the barkeep at Singlecut. I had Sunday free, so I grabbed the 10:30 Hudson train from Grand Central. Train tickets cost about $23 round trip, and it was worth it for the scenery alone. It was an easy, pleasant 45-minute train ride along the Hudson River with the leaves just putting on their autumn coats. PB is in a renovated old building just a short walk from the train station and there's a lovely park on the river, across the street. The beer was fairly good across the board. They had a lot of IPA's. Dream of the 90's is a coffee IPA, and yes, coffee and hops can work together. The Simple Sour was also pleasant, a subtle version of a brett beer. I didn't like their single-hop Centennial, though. Very rough hop character. The food there was only OK. Decent burger but terrible onion rings.
http://peekskillbrewery.wordpress.com/

In the city I was surprised by how easy it was to find good beer. I had figured it would be like Vegas, a beer desert served only by macros, but it was much the opposite. Pretty much every place we went had local taps or at least bottles. We happened upon the outdoor Madison Square Eats festival and had a relaxing first night in New York drinking and eating underneath the Flatiron Building. Before our requisite Broadway show, we found a beer bar called Three Monkeys at 54th and Broadway; they have a well-curated tap list and tasty food.

All the beer I remember having was solid (no specific comments): Ommegang Scythe & Sickle, KelSo nut brown, Southern Tier 2x stout, Blue Point Toasted (Vienna) lager. There were some other beers, not necessarily local, but I've lost them in the haze of memories from the trip.

The only disappointment that I had is while there are many breweries in New York City, few of them have tap rooms. It seemed to be only Singlecut, Brooklyn, and a handful of brewpubs in Manhattan. I presume that New York licensing laws make taprooms difficult. But at least I know now that it's not hard to find a tasty, local pint in New York.

3
Two new homebrew appliances launched on Kickstarter recently.

PicoBrew
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1708005089/picobrew-zymatic-the-automatic-beer-brewing-applia

BrewBot
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cargo/brewbot-the-smart-brewing-appliance

I'm curious what other homebrewers think of the idea of an automated brewing machine. What's your opinion? Would you use one of these machines? Have you kicked them?

I'm fascinated by the machines but my opinion is mixed. There's an obvious problem to solve that I feel the pain of: all-grain homebrewing is a time-consuming hobby with lots of tedious clean-up work. Yet I can't help feeling that to an experienced homebrewer, these machines are like selling a bread-making machine to a baker. Yes, it's consistent and has good mechanics but it blinds you from the intricacies of the process and the limitations of the machine can restrict creativity.

(Then again, I'm an advocate for creativity being inspired by constricted conditions so I could be talking out my arse here.)

From a marketing standpoint there's the "it's so simple anyone can do it" aspect of a brewing machine. That's nice, but the lack of instant gratification in brewing, not the complexity, is what I think will prevent even this type of machine from entering the mass market. A good number of these, like many a homebrew kit, are probably going to gather dust in the garage after the initial novelty wears off. After all, you don't need a $1500 machine to make good beer: at a minimum you need a big soup pot and a bucket.

The fact that these machines don't manage the fermentation process bothers me. These are really just wort-making machines. That's the more complex part of the process if you brew all-grain but it's only half of the story. The endorsement by White Labs is a little puzzling to me.

Maybe I have too much invested in my current practices to see the value in this level of automated brewing. I'm biased for sure.

I did have an opportunity earlier this year to taste beer produced by one of the prototype PicoBrew boxes. A friend of mine knows one of the founders and passed me a growler of machine-brewed porter. It was good but not remarkable. Too roasty for my tastes, somewhat light-bodied and lacked complexity in the flavor, but nothing technically wrong with the beer.

And worth noting these projects aren't the first to market with a homebrew machine:
http://www.williamswarn.com/

4
Equipment and Software / Homebrew Fight Club: Kettle Filter Edition
« on: July 01, 2013, 09:08:04 PM »
I've spent a lot of time researching kettle components lately. One area that remains somewhat unsettled for me is methods for filtering and draining the boil kettle.

Rather than me trying to get feedback about any specific method, I'm more interested in your unsolicited opinions on the topic. So I'd like to simply ask y'all smart people to tell me what you like about any given method, or more likely, combination (tag team?) of methods. Where applicable, please comment on any related factor, such as chilling hardware, pump clogging potential, kettle dimensions, etc.

Here are our contenders:
* False Bottom
* Center-pickup dip tube
* Side-pickup dip tube
* Whirlpool
* Interior screen (specify details, ex. tube or flat circle)
* Exterior screen (specify details, ex. cheesecloth or sieve)

If I missed any methods, I'm sure you'll let me know.

Aaaaaaaand... FIGHT!

5
Equipment and Software / I'm ready to trash my kettle
« on: June 12, 2013, 02:35:49 PM »
After last Saturday's brew session I'm about ready to trash my kettle, and probably also the burner, and blow a ton of money on a Blichmann set up. Talk me off the edge of this cliff or egg me on.

I've had the kettle for about a year. It's an el-cheapo thin SS 10 gallon model I got from an online HBS, who pre-drilled holes and included a weldless ball valve and thermometer. It's actually worked pretty well, all things considered.

The big problem is the evaporation rate. The kettle is low and wide so it loses something like 20% an hour. That means increasing my pre-boil volume, which for 90-minute boils puts me on constant boil-over watch.

But the catalyst of my ire this past weekend was judging the liquid volume in the kettle. This kettle has some coarse gallon markings (2/4/6/8 only) embossed into the side. My pre-boil calc for this long-boil batch was about 9 gallons, and I had a terrible time guesstimating where that was. I must have overshot it a lot when draining the MLT because my OG came in about 10 points short. (Oddly, my SG was on target, though I think I get to blame that on better-than-expected mash efficiency.)

I'm aware that I could solve the volume problem by installing a sight glass. I'm not keen on attempting to drill through SS, though. Metal fab is not in my skill set.

There's one other problem with this kettle that annoys me. The hole that the HBS drilled for the valve is so low that it extends into the curved corner at the bottom of the kettle. Net result is that the valve points downward from horizontal, maybe only by 5 degrees, but enough that the kettle doesn't sit flat, it sits resting on the barb.

All this combined is making me dream of a new kettle, a tall, narrow one with little evap rate and welded fittings. Having looked at the Blingmann shinies, I'm pretty well hooked. One thing I'm not sure of is what size to get. I make 5 gallon batches, which in practical terms means 6 going into the fermenter, and I don't see myself going larger anytime soon. That said, the cost difference between the 10 and 15 gallons kettles is relatively small but there are complaints on the 15 gallon model that the thermometer is mounted at 6.5 gallons and not useful for smaller batches. I think I'd be OK with the 10 gallon model as long as the evap rate is reasonable and don't have to worry about boil overs so much.

Hey, that's a lot of words. I guess typing this mostly helps me sort out my own thoughts. But let me know what you think. Always good to get advice from outside one's own head.

6
Yeast and Fermentation / Expected lifespan of O2 canister
« on: March 10, 2013, 10:19:20 PM »
How long should I expect a canister of O2 to last? I seem to be changing out every 2nd or 3rd brew, and it's getting expensive.

I'm aerating with pure O2 for about 90-120 seconds, with canisters from the hardware store that are like this:
http://www.amazon.com/WORTHINGTON-CYLINDERS-333666-Disposable-Cylinder/dp/B0086AKIBW/

Hooked up to a regulator and .5 micron stone from my LHBS.

Possible that I've got a slow leak in the regulator head? Should I disconnect it while not in use?

7
Equipment and Software / Pump technique and cleaning
« on: February 27, 2013, 05:21:52 PM »
Finally got to use my new March pump on Sunday. It was (pick one: Useful | Fun | Everything I Ever Hoped It Would Be | A Religious Experience). I used it for transferring strike and sparge water from the kettle to my gravity-fed cooler tuns, and for recirculating the wort during chilling.

As this was my first experience using a pump in brewing, there was an unexpected but not inappropriate learning curve, and there are a couple of issues I'd like to ask about.

First, is there a prescribed order for opening/closing valves and powering on the pump?

What I settled on was: close pump outlet, open kettle outlet, open tun inlet, power on pump, quickly open pump outlet to desired level. After transfer is complete, close tun inlet, quickly power off pump, close kettle outlet.

This worked well except for pumping the strike water, where I completely forgot to close the valves, 2 gallons of liquid flowed back into the kettle, and I lost 5°F in the mash tun. Otherwise, sometimes I had problems getting the flow started, and it seemed like it worked better if I kept the pump outlet valve closed to start, but I wonder if that's bad for the pump.

Second, what cleaning routine do you use? I flushed the pump with cold water at the end of the brew day, and when I cleaned the kettle last night I ran 180°F water through it to kill nasties, then added PBW, then rinsed with hot tap water. That's not the most efficient cleaning routine, so I'm wondering what y'all do.

8
Hey brewers, I'm hoping you can help me figure out what kind of a wort chilling solution to buy. I've got some birthday money to spend and an eye to speed up my brew day.

My current solution is a copper immersion chiller fed from the garden tap. Shut off gas, insert IC and stir... stir... stir... after a half hour I'm somewhere around 85F, going nowhere, and usually give up, drain the kettle and put the fermenter in the chest freezer and check it later. (FWIW, ground water here in Seattle is reasonably chilly, less so in the summer.)

I'm impatient, especially at that point when I've spent 4+ hours setting up and brewing and now I want to be done with the project, pitch the yeast, clean up and move on with my day. So I want to find a more efficient chilling solution.

I've read about counterflow chillers. I've read about plate chillers. I've read about recirculation. I have no experience with any of them and no idea which option is right for me. Maybe there's another solution I haven't heard about yet.

What do you recommend? What's a good option for quickly cooling wort? I've got $100 to spend, though if you think it's worth spending more, supplemental funds might be found (or possibly brought by Santa Claus).

9
Equipment and Software / Better way to rig my mash tun filter?
« on: November 19, 2012, 05:31:34 PM »
I've been doing all-grain for a little less than a year now. Built myself a 10-gallon beverage cooler setup and have been getting good results.

One problem I'd like to tackle is how the filter in my mash tun is plumbed to the outlet.

The filter is a 12" SS perforated, domed false bottom (http://www.learntobrew.com/store/item/30k6q/-_All_Grain_Equipment/False_Bottom_-_Stainless_Steel_12_inches.html), connected to the cooler bulkhead via a short length of 3/8" ID hose. The hose is secured by barbed connectors on either end, with SS hose clamps to secure it. (I'd share a photo, but I can't figure out how to do that with this bloody forum system.)

The rig itself works well enough, but it was difficult enough to install that I haven't yet disconnected the parts. Cleaning requires turning the tun upside-down, spraying with the hose, then turning it around to check and see if I got all the little bits of grain unstuck from the filter. Rinse, repeat.

What I'd like to do is replace the hose with a hard-plumbed system that is easy to disassemble so I can get the filter out to clean it properly.

Suggestions?

(I originally didn't try to hard-plumb because I'm not familiar with cutting pipe or soldering or any other way that would fit the custom length I'd need. Also, the elbow connector on the filter is a little fussy; there are nuts on both the top and bottom of the filter that are a tad loose and I'm always afraid I'm going to lose the bottom one. Maybe I should get someone to weld the bottom nut to the filter for me?)

10
Going Pro / Brewery internship?
« on: January 27, 2012, 06:57:30 PM »
The short version: What's the best way to go about contacting a brewery to offer myself as free labor in the brewery for a week or a month, in exchange for simply being there and learning more about how a brewery is run?

The long version: I'm employed full time in the software industry, but I'm contemplating a change in career. I enjoy beer and brewing and they say you should do what you love. I'm nowhere near ready to go pro, but maybe ready to apply to a fermentation science program and go the academic route.

But I want to know what working in a brewery is really like. My job affords me a lengthy vacation, during which time I'd like to offer myself to a local brewery (I'm in Seattle, so there are plenty to pick from) as free labor for a week or a month. Maybe multiple weeks at different breweries, if they'll have me. In exchange, all I ask is that I be allowed to observe and ask questions about the brewing process. Consider it an internship.

How do you think a brewery would react to this offer? Would they be likely to take it? Who would be the best person to contact? The head brewer or HR or the owner?

I realize that the obvious answer here is just to go ask some breweries. No penalty for trying, eh?  Problem is that I'm a bit of the shy type. Introverted, maybe. I have a hard time striking up conversations with strangers. In person, anyway; I've got no problem spilling my heart out to all you folks on an Internet forum. ;)  So the idea of waltzing into a brewery and trying to get the attention of one of the proprietors and pitch them my idea is scary to me. I'd like to prepare myself with a good approach and a good pitch, hence a little asking about on the ol' Internets.

Your opinion desired.

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