Bottle conditioning hack.

I’ve struggled getting proper carbonation on some of my bottles, specifically my sour saison. When I finished reading the chapter on packaging in American Sour beers, and it didn’t have any better advise than test and see. I then realized my friend JD had a really great hack for knowing the progress of your bottle conditioning. When bottle conditioning he fills a pet soda bottle along with his regular bottles. You’ll be able tell if your beer is carbonating as expected by the pressure building in the soda bottles. Bonus points if you use a brown root beer bottle, which will prevent the beer from being light struck. I can take no credit for this tip, it’s a lesson I should have learned long ago.

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Happy new year, here’s some stuff you should do.

With the new year and the height of brew season ahead of us, now’s a good time to do a few things you might have ignored the rest of the year. Here’s my list of things you should probably do, if you haven’t done them recently. I’m sure I have missed stuff, despite asking twitter for recommendations.

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Inventory and restock – See what you do and don’t have on hand. I over analyze this, and track inventory in beersmith. It really helps with recipe substitutions and formulation. This is as much to prevent running out of gypsum on brew day, but also see what you should use up that’s about to expire. This goes for any and all consumables, cleaners, bottle caps, and clean bottles. Inventory what beers you have on hand too. Use the info to determine what you might want to brew in the coming year. In taking inventory and restocking, keep in mind the poor 2014 growing season for malt which could drive prices higher for 2015 and beyond. While your at it, label your stuff with purchase type, quantity, and purchase date.

Plan your brewing schedule – After you have figured out what ingredients you have on hand to brew, plan your brewing schedule. A proper schedule will allow you to use lower gravity batches as starters for future beers. This will help you optimize your yeast purchases. Plan the brews in increasing gravity, ibu, SRM, to optimize yeast pitching health. Look at the calendar and figure out when you need to brew your Maibock, Berliner Eeisse, and pale ale so it’s ready for that competition, may, or summer sipping. What’s worse than your imperial stout being ready for your summer party, but no session beer. If you plan it right, you’ll have your beers brewed in time for the right season. Take in consideration what beers you brewed last year, and went over well, and what ones didn’t get finished in a timely fashion.

Clean your keggerator – Now that you have planned your future brews, make room in your keggerator for them and get it in top shape. Dump those old stale beers. Clean your lines if they are newish, replace them if they are more than a year or so old. Disassemble your taps, and give them a good scrub. Prevent leaks by tightening any loose fittings, make sure to replace the teflon tape when reassembling them. Give your kegs a good once over and see if any o rings need to be replaced. Prevent rust by cleaning up any moisture or spilled beer, maybe refresh or replace your desiccant.

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Replace all your old plastics, buckets, and hoses. Anything old, cloudy, scratched, soiled or stained, kinked or nicked should be pitched. How long has it been since you replaced your siphon hose or auto siphon? Boil your high temp hoses to rid them of any built up. Check the hoses going to and from your immersion chiller and water filter. Those connections are prone to failure. You’ll thank yourself the next time your buddy tells you about their chiller failure amid brew day.

Clean the rest of your brewing gear. This is my hat tip Brulosophy (and his clean your ball valve post). Disassemble and clean your ball valves. Sit down and scrub that gear that doesn’t always see the best cleaning. Scrub your mash tun, use some bar keepers friend and make your stainless kettle or keggle shine inside and out. Clean up and organize your home brewery.

Calibrate your thermometers, hydrometers, refractometers and scales. You received some new gear for the holiday, now’s a good time to make sure it’s measuring the temps and the volume markings are correct, or make some markings on it.

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Check the expiration date on your propane tanks and c0/ 02 tanks. Worse than not having propane, co, or o2 when you need it, is not being able to fill that tank because it’s expired. Propane tanks need to be qualified ever 5-12 years depending of type / style, and CO2 and other pressurized gas has similar re-qualifying requirements. Usually you can recycle your tank at your local hardware store, or gas supplier. After checking the expiration dates, make sure your tanks are full. Running out of propane or oxygen mid brew is a bad thing.

Basically, this is to remind you to think about all aspects of your brewing process, and gear you don’t maintain on a regular basis. Start a maintenance log for your home brewery and keep it up to date. One final reminder, replace the batteries in you CO monitor, ph meter, powered thermometer, and start your brew year off on the right foot.

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If I had it all to do over again… How I recomend getting started brewing.

Hindsight . As a homebrewer you are often asked about starting out, what’s the best kit to get, what recipe to use, what did you do etc. I’m doing this for Learn to homebrew day, I’ve greatly benefited by those in the community willing to share a recipe, tip, DIY plan, etc. Here is I’d do if I were to do it over again.

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Read, but don’t obsess. You aren’t going to brew a perfect beer the first time, and there is only so much you can do with your first batch. Pick a book, and read it. The two most common are How to brew by John Palmer And The Complete Joy of Home brewing – Charlie Papazian. They are different takes on brewing, read a few pages from amazon, and pick the one that suits your style, and read it. I read and read and read, and listened until I was filled with crazy ideas, and worried about doing it perfect. I didn’t understand what I was reading. Just pick a book, read it, and get a bad first draft done.
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HomeBrewing roundtable part 1: Getting to know the brewers

This series of posts will be different than all the others posted so far. This is a roundtable of homebrewers. I’ve asked them some questions about how they got started, and to provide some recommendations on getting started, and about some mistakes the’ve made along the way. They are from all experience levels, both coasts, and even from our neighbor up north. One thing we all have in common is we are all homebrewers, and we all had to start somewhere. This series of questions is designed to help would be brewers break the ice, and get brewing. It’s good to hear how we got started, the gear, recipes, tips, and of course the mistakes we have made. I plan be doing these as an on going series of conversations about topics useful to have a breadth of perspectives on. I’ll start part 1 of the Q&A with an introduction to the participants and how they got started brewing. Continue reading

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Entering Homebrewing Competitions

Brewing beer is reward in itself. You get to take part in a centuries old craft, turning simple ingredients into something so much more. You even get to enjoy fresh beer in the style of your choosing. What more could you want?
Well, some also seek affirmation from their peers that their efforts are worth it. It’s not too hard to get positive feedback from family and friends after quaffing a free home brew. While appreciative of their approval, I’ve found I can get more critical feedback by entering competitions. Continue reading

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