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Messages - galapagos jim

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Are any of these machines self-cleaning or do they just do the fun part and make me their b!tch?

The video and FAQ for PicoBrew say that the bins are dishwasher-safe. They do caution to use enzymatic cleaning tablets, not regular dishwasher soap. There supposedly also a cleaning cycle for the machine innards. Fairly well thought-out, IMO.

I don't recall the BrewBot page talking much about cleaning. It's been a while since I looked at the WilliamsWarm but I think it has an automatic cleaning cycle.

Two new homebrew appliances launched on Kickstarter recently.



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:

Equipment and Software / Re: Choosing The Right Brewpot
« on: September 27, 2013, 09:05:48 PM »
> I don't understand why in the world anyone needs a thermometer on a boil kettle. 

I do infusion mashes in beverage coolers, so I use the thermometer to tell when my mash water is the right temp before transfer.

> And we see the effects of not properly caring for an aluminum pot.  To my knowledge, there is no need to sanitize a kettle and there is no need to remove anything more than the trub with a scrubby.  Sorry for your loss.

If it was Star San I left in there (could've been PBW for multiple days, I can't remember now), it was only temporary storage in-between cleaning tasks. Purely ignorance on my part. I wanted a bigger kettle with a ball valve anyway, so it gave me the opportunity to upgrade.

Equipment and Software / Re: Choosing The Right Brewpot
« on: September 26, 2013, 02:58:09 PM »
Recently I researched buying a new kettle, but did not pull the trigger. (Bought a new guitar instead. Choices... choices...) Like you I currently brew 5 gallons but would like the flexibility to do 10, so when I do buy that next kettle it will be 15 gallons.

One issue with size I found was that some of the preassembled 15 gallon kettles, like the Blichmann model, put the thermometer at around the 6 gallon mark, making it somewhat less useful for 5 gallon batches.

I also wholly recommend getting or modifying a kettle to have a ball valve. No reason that you need to be lifting or even siphoning.

On aluminum vs stainless steel, it's your call. Aluminum is cheaper, but requires more maintenance and isn't as easy to modify (ie., drilling ports and/or welding; refer to Palmer's How To Brew). I had an 8 gallon aluminum pot for a while, I stopped using it because I upgraded to full boils and had problems with boilover, and also I managed to pit the interior by leaving some cleaning chemical (or possibly temp storage of Star San) in it for too long. Those sort of problems are less likely with stainless.

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: Roggenbier!
« on: August 04, 2013, 04:04:58 PM »
Reuben's Brews in Seattle makes an outstanding roggenbier. Not that I have experience or authority to compare it to other examples of style, but outstanding at least in the sense that I'll drink it any chance I get. It's available in bottles wherever Reuben's Brews fine beers are sold (not much out side of WA yet).

I've had Rogue's "roguenbier", too. It was pretty good, but a quite sweet compared to Reuben's.

Definitely a style worth reviving.

Equipment and Software / Re: Blichmann burner first impression
« on: July 02, 2013, 06:20:20 PM »
I fired up my Blichmann for the first time today, too. Dang thing is near silent. Library quiet, at least.

Did you have any trouble adjusting the flame? (Regulator vs. air louvre) It seemed OK at first but the temp stalled at around 160F so I started messing with it, don't know if that helped any. Overall it seemed a bit slow to get 5 gallons up to a boil.

I was getting a lot of heat wash around the bottom of the kettle, not so much farther up. Could barely touch the valve handle despite it having a heat shield attached.

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!

Equipment and Software / Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
« on: June 26, 2013, 01:48:09 PM »
90 pints in a 5-gallon batch
God, I wish my 5 gallon batches had 90 pints in them...mine only have about 40. :o

Yep, I fudged up that math quite well. Why is there no facepalm emoticon?

In any case, point being that I simply don't go through my kegs very quickly, at least not without help.

Equipment and Software / Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
« on: June 25, 2013, 05:42:30 PM »
> The first thing I would do is buy an adjustable propane regulator

Got one. The experience I've had with my setup is that there's a very fine line between boiling and not. If I leave the flame too low the boil will occasionally just stop. If it's in the mood it will start again without intervention. I suspect it has more to do with the burner, which has no wind shield on it.

> It is aluminum and works just fine and is lighter and a lot Cheaper than stainless.

I started with an 8-gallon aluminum kettle. Nice jobby that I bought at a restaurant supply store for a decent price. It's now nicely pitted inside because I left it filled with PBW for far too long.

Stainless is more expensive but it has advantages. My current kettle is lighter than that old aluminum one because it is much thinner. And you almost never see welded ports on aluminum.

> Why are so many people stuck on 5 gal batches. Does not cost that much more to step up to 15 gal and basically takes the same amount of time.

For me it's because I don't drink my homebrew very quickly. Let's do the math: 1 beer drinker in my house x 1 pint per day (on average) x 90 pints in a 5-gallon batch = about 3 months to drink a batch IF that's the only beer I drink. Which I don't. Got 3 kegs running and a cellar full of bottles, both mine and from the store.

Eventually I get tired of my kegs being occupied so I take them to the office to have them drained. Point being that the reason I don't make more beer is because I simply don't need that much beer.

> We as brewers have to adapt to our equipment, somewhat

I don't disagree. It's not a universal equation, though. If you have the capability to improve your equipment, either the money to buy it or the expertise to build it yourself, don't you?

I admit to having both perfectionist and gadget-freak shades to my personality. Frustrations like my boil kettle tend to become opportunities to play with new toys.

BTW, after doing some research on kettles, I find that Blichmann actually comes out OK for value. When you add up all the cost of all the bells and whistles, there aren't many feature-equivalent off-the-shelf solutions at a better price. Been talking with my LHBS, though. They do welding and might be able to put a deal together for me.

Still searching for my perfect kettle...

Equipment and Software / Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
« on: June 13, 2013, 03:30:19 PM »
Thanks for the replies, all.

Mostly I guess I was venting in public. That's what forums are for, right? ;)

> Too high evaporation- add back a gallon or so of water after 60-75 minutes

This had never occurred to me. But it feels too much like partial-boil. Wouldn't this affect hop utilization rates?

> +1 to the measuring rod/stick.  Low tech and reliable.

I guess the reason I haven't done this is because the kettle had _some_ markings.

One comment: I'm paranoid about using a permanent marker on the kettle or any kind of stick. What kind of chemicals are in the ink, and will they get into my wort?

> also could partially cover your kettle, and you could reduce the heat input, once you are at boiling, the higher the heat input the faster the boil off and vice versa.

Partial cover had also not occurred to me, having been taught to never cover the boil. I have tried to vary the heat input, but something is funky with either the regulator or the burner. (Never been fully satisfied with those, either.) There's a very fine line between full-rolling-boil and not-quite-boiling that I've got to park the knob on.

> Appears to me that you just have the itch to buy some different equipment.

Maybe. Maybe just distracted by shinies. Never been 100% happy with this kettle, though. Too many compromises.

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.

Every summer I go on a one-week sailing trip with family and friends on the Salish Sea. Last year I set myself the challenge of brewing a beer on the boat on day one and serving it on the last night out. I picked a low gravity (~1.038 IIRC) bitter and brewed about 1.25 gallons. 3 days for ferm, 3 days for conditioning and carb in a mini-keg.

When we first tasted it on the boat, it wasn't great. Thin, barely carbonated, yeasty, and no character. I took the remainder of the mini-keg home, stuck it in the fridge and ignored it, thinking it was a failure. When I got around to trying it again several weeks later it was good. Not great, but pretty darn good for a session beer, especially after the yeast layer had been sucked out.

Kegging and Bottling / Re: Stuck Post
« on: April 03, 2013, 06:11:49 PM »
I've been having this problem lately too, but only the gas post on one of my kegs. Started happening a few months ago, the keg was fine until then. It was a frustrating mystery until last night when I noticed that the O-ring on that particular post was sticking out farther than the others. I don't know if it's the wrong size, but as noted it worked fine for a long time. That particular ring is blue, FWIW.

So, maybe replace the O-rings on your posts? That's my plan.

Yeast and Fermentation / Re: Expected lifespan of O2 canister
« on: March 11, 2013, 11:01:56 AM »
Thanks for the replies, all. I had been cranking the regulator all the way open, so it looks like no surprise that I was running through them so fast. The instructions that came with the kit from the LHBS weren't very detailed. They did tell me to keep a spare bottle on hand, so I've never been short of O2.

And I'll take the regulator off when not in use. I suspect that doesn't have so much to do with it, but fewer parts that can fail = lower probability of failure.

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:

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?

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