The curse of the serious home brewer – upgrade fever.

I’ve had a serious case of blogger’s block lately. This is the 3rd post that I’ve drafted since my last update. I deleted the other ones because they just kind of fizzled out. I’m sitting here and sipping on a New World Porter from Woodruff Brewing Company and I have finally figured out what to write about.
I consider myself to be a serious home brewer. Everybody knows home brewing is my hobby, but I know very few other home brewers that invest themselfs in it like I do. Hell, outside of my family and my job, home brewing beer defines me. Where other people I know dream of saving for a vacation to the beach or buying new records or clothes, I dream of visiting breweries and buying better beer making equipment. Which is exactly what I have done this week.
I’ve been lucky enough to make a little extra money on the side doing game day parking at my office. With it I figured I could buy some gear that will improve the quality of my brews. I’ve been looking at counter-flow bottling systems for several years now. Just like any purchase I make, it takes me an incredibly long time to make up my mind on exactly which brand I want to get. Each one has it’s own pros and cons to consider. I’ve been leaning towards buying the Blichmann Beer Gun for awhile. However, after further research and a conversation that I had with a pro brewer, I went with the deluxe version bottle filler offered by More Beer. I like that it fills from the bottom of the bottle up, and that it flushes out the oxygen with CO2 first. Up until now, I’ve been naturally carbonating my beer. This is done by adding priming sugar when I bottle. The remaining yeast cells eat the sugar and create the carbonation. I’ve made great beer this way, and have so for year. So how will using a counter-pressure system improve my beer? Well, hopefully in several ways. As great as bottle conditioning is, things can go wrong. Yeast can autolyze, creating off flavors. Too much carbonation and your beer can foam really bad when you pour it, or even worse, bottles can explode. Luckily, that hasn’t happened to me in over 10 years, but I still am careful to store my beers in coolers to minimize mess if it does. Oxidation is a big concern of mine as well. There nothing like going to pour a beer and realizing a whole batch has gone stale due to extra oxygen that was picked up during the bottling process. With counter pressure filling, I won’t have to worry about this so much.
It’s pretty simple how this works. I’ll flush out the oxygen out of the empty keg with carbon dioxide and then keg my beer. Then I’ll force carbonate it. Whenever I want to bring bottles somewhere, I’ll simply sanitize however many I want, then fill them directly from the keg using the bottle filler. This should cut down significantly on the amount of storage space I need.
Not to say I won’t ever bottle condition beer. In fact I plan on doing just that with a few from every batch. Some higher gravity beers, and styles like Imperial Stouts and Barley Wines benefit from extended bottle conditioning. Instead of going through the trouble of measuring out tiny amounts of bottling sugar, I’ll just use tabs. I don’t plan on bottle conditioning more then 10 beers out of every batch anyway.
Another major reason I purchased the counter pressure filler is for non alcoholic drinks. My 7 year old son makes his own sodas (with my help & guidance, of course). We always keg his creations. The reason being is that to bottle conditioned soda, you have to use yeast which creates yucky off flavors. If we fill the bottles under pressure with already carbonated soda, he can bring them to a friends house, birthday party or whatever. Just like me and my beers, he takes great joy in sharing something yummy that he made with his friends. I can also give him all the clear bottles I keep, since you don’t have to worry about soda getting “light struck” like you do with beer.

My new bottle filler

The other piece of equipment I purchased this week was a filtering system. I’ve been looking and researching these for awhile as well, but not to the extent that I have with counter-pressure fillers. Filtering will also improve my beer, mostly the look of it. Pretty much every home brewer has issues with chill haze. This is caused by proteins in the beer that make it cloudy when it’s cold. This doesn’t effect the flavor in any way. It’s really just an issue of presentation more then anything. My brewing techniques have improved significantly over the years, but I still get chill haze from time to time. Filtering may also help improve the flavor by taking out tiny particles of yeast, proteins and polyphenols. I purchased my filter from Home Brew Stuff. The one I bought I can also use as a infuser, which is what I think it will get the most use as. I can run my IPAs and Pale Ales through extra hops, and my Stouts and Porters through coffee beans or cacao nibs. Hell if I’m feeling adventurous, I can run my beer through fruit if I want. Which is what I may do if I’m serving it at a festival.
Both of these upgrades are dependent on my kegging system. I currently have 6 five gallon corny kegs, 3 gallon and a 2.5 gallon. I’ll need to use 4 kegs to filter 10 gallons. I also have 2 Carbon Dioxide tanks, a 10 and a 5 pound. I have 2 regulators, one of which I need to get replacement gauges for. My beer fridge is a chest freezer with thermostat control. It has the capacity to fit all of my full kegs at once. The beer has to be kept cold in order for the C02 to absorb. I got the feeling that once I’m up and running at full capacity, I’ll be looking for more kegs and another chest freezer to add to my set up. I’ll cross that bridge if and when I ever get there.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Ok, Random recipe, here’s a pale ale I plan on brewing Thanksgiving weekend.

C & C American Pale Ale -10 gallon recipe

20 pounds 2 row Pale Ale Malt
1 pound Dark Crystal malt (75L)
2 ounces Citra hops.
2 ounces Cascade hops.
2 whirlfloc tablets
Strike crushed grains with 8 gallons of 163 degree water
hold grains at 152 degrees for 60 minutes.
Sparge with 7.2 gallons of 179 degree water
bring to boil, add 1 ounce of Cascade hops.
30 minutes, add 1 ounce of Citra.
Last 10 minutes add another ounce of Cascade.
Last 5 minutes of the boil, add the whirfloc tablets.
Add last ounce of hops at end of boil.
Rapidly cool and pitch with 3 packages of Safale- US-05 dry yeast or Wyeast or White Labs California Ale Yeast.

If you read this blog, I’d love to hear from you. I have more then a few beer and brewery stickers I have collected at festivals. The next 6 people to post a comment, I’ll mail you a beer sticker from my collection.

Cheers,

Ratchet.

5 Responses to The curse of the serious home brewer – upgrade fever.

  1. Recipe looks great! I’m a sucker for Citra and Cascade is just in my freezer all the time. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be able to get any Citra locally until the new year, if at all.

    Trade you a sticker for a coaster?

    • ratchetbrew says:

      Hey thanks for checking out my site. I’m definitly up for a trade. I’ll email you my info, just respond with yours and I’ll send out some stickers. How about sharing links?

  2. Email me at peter@wesmoredigital.ca and we’ll sort out details.

    Cheers!

  3. Ben says:

    Found your blog via the KnoxNews story. I’ve done the Mr. Beer brewing method and it works, but am looking for something better. I will keep an eye out here. And stickers are great!

  4. Stickers received! Thank you so much!

    Coasters on their way.

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