15 June 2009

The Fun just never ends...

I love brewing beer. No matter how good we get there is always something to tinker with. Not that I am happy that Brian was electrocuted and burned on Wednesday... well maybe just a little bit happy.. but I like to have to re-think things and come up with new approaches to solve problems that we encounter.

Problem #1: Electricity

Electricity is first and foremost convenient. Propane could in theory be used but using gas and open flame (though probably safer) is more difficult to make changes to as you have to work with sealed pipes (making sure there are no leaks) as opposed to just pulling a wire where you need it. As long as we have everything GROUNDED then, in theory, it should be IMPOSSIBLE to get shocked. Ok, obviously I know that Brian was shocked, and I did ground the boil pot but what I did not do is use a dedicated ground. I instead used the neutral wire. Now for those of you who are not electricians out there the neutral wire is fundamentally the same as a ground. They both connect to the exact same place in the breaker box, but I think they are not equals for the sake of grounding for one reason: the neutral wire already has a load going through it. The more amperage you pass through a wire the more it was resist additional current being routed through it. A ground needs to be as resistance-less as possible so that in case of a short the electricty will always choose the path of least reistance and that path should be the ground wire. If you are using your ground wire for significant amounts of current, then it may be that a nice human body might offer less resistance than the ground. Two things need to be corrected here: A) my "safety net" of a ground wire needs to be unused except in case of a short; and B) I need to find the short which electrified the kettle to begin with.

Problem #2: Mash Effeciency

As we begin to establish a pretty stable brewing process, we have begun to notice that we have been gettign very poor brewing effeciency (40% - 50%). A normal homebrew setup should be able to get between 70% - and 80%... hmm.

Every type of grain or additive has a certain amount of potential fermentables in it (assuming that 100% of the starches and proteins are converted to sugars). These sugars are measured by the density of the wort that is created during hte mash. If we know the weight of a certain amount of water we can compare that with the weight of that same amount of wort. The difference in density or "gravity" directly corresponds to the amount of fermentables which has been extracted from the grain. For isntance, 1 pound of 2-row Belgian Pale malt can, in theory, add about 35 "points" of gravity per gallon of water. If our brewery effeciency is only 50% then there will be about 17 points added per pound of Pale malt, per gallon. This can be caused by either poor conversion of starches and proteins into sugar, or else by not extracting the sugars all the way from the mash.

We can test wether we are getting good conversion by taking a sample of wort after one hour of mashing and adding a few drops of iodine to it. If any starches remain in solution the wort will turn opaque black, in which case we need to modfiy our mash process in some way so as to facilitate good conversion. If the starches appear to be converted then the problem likely resides in our process of rinsing the sugars from the grain bed (lautering).

Problem #3: Water filter

Not so much a problem as much as an idea for improvement. Mounting the filter under the existing HLT to make setting the filter up easier. That way we can have a hose that always jsut goes right to the kettle and when we need water we can run the water supply to a fitting on the brewery (no more balancing the filters on top of the kettle to fill them).

Here's to having 40 gallons of beer ripening in their glorious vessels. :)

Pour one for me.


  1. I am that human body. I'm sure glad we have you around for all this technical space-age mumbo-jumbo. Electricity- who's ever heard of that?

  2. 40 gallons!!! And here I have been patting myself on the back for 10 gallons of beer (soon to be doubled) and 16 gallons of Cider I have in my garage. Then again, you are three and I am one so I think that puts me ahead.