Category Archives: Top Posts

Three Easy Upgrades for Brew Day

Looking for some simple upgrades to make brew day go more smoothly?  Consider these three gear purchases.

#1 –  24″ Stainless Steel Whisk.  This whisk is great for: 1.  Stirring in extract.  It easily breaks up clumps, 2.  Stirring the mash 3.  Starting a whirlpool and 4. Helping chill more quickly (place in the middle of your wort chiller to agitate wort).  If you’re a homebrewer, I think you should consider owning one of these babies.  Hands on Review

Update International FW-24 Stainless Steel French Whip, 24-Inch

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Testing Star San Effectiveness

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Star San is my sanitizer of choice.  It’s food safe and no rinse.  Required contact time is one minute.  It has worked very well for me for quite some time and I’m convinced that it’s one of the most economical solutions available if you use the spray bottle method [See: Star San Tips, Tricks and Guidelines]

How long is Star San good for?
Star San (diluted sanitizing solution) needs to remain under pH 3 AND be crystal clear.  If your solution of Star San gets cloudy, according to Five Star, it may not be effective.  Hard water will make the solution go cloudy quickly.  If this is happening to you, use distilled water.

Some will say that the clear part is not important.  Here’s the information I’ve gotten from Five Star Chemicals on that:  “The cloudy solution could be okay, but it could be bad. The cloudiness is the surfactant coming out of solution. It has reacted, or is reacting with the metals in the water. I don’t know if it is still good, because I don’t know how much surfactant has reacted. I error on the side of caution and suggest that you don’t even mess with it. Use DI water.

Testing Star San effectiveness involves two things… Crystal clear solution and pH under 3.  The crystal clear part is straightforward.  The pH question involves using either a pH meter [pH tag] or strips.  I wanted to find pH strips that work well for this task.  I ended up trying a few different styles and manufacturers before finding strips that I think work well.

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Camlock Cam & Groove Disconnects for Your Homebrew Setup

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I’ve used ProFlow Dynamics Quick Disconnects on my kettles, mash tun, pumps and tubing for a long time.  They have worked great for me.  I put male connectors kettles, mash tuns and pumps and use female connectors for tubing.  Standardizing on this (or the opposite) means you can use tubing as jumpers and always have the availability to connect your gear.

These are made from Stainless Steel and are available in lots of configurations.  Those are classified by Type and Size.  Type may mean something in “commercial cam lock fitting circles”, but I was initially confused by this.  Types are akin to model numbers.  For example, Type A is Female NPT to Male Cam and Groove.

Since I have started using these ProFlow has added a number of new types including “Big” Variants.  Big C and Big E.  Those have much larger barbs when compared to the original C and E.

Camlock Disconnects at ProFlow – This link will save you 5% – Discount shows in the cart

flowsightcam-2TBrew Hardware also has an extensive selection of camlocks including some unique offerings like their (pictured) lightweight sightglass, tri-clover to camlock adapters, camlock to compression adapter and more.  Camlock Fittings at Brew Hardware

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Mark II Keg & Carboy Cleaner… As a Recirculating Draft Line Cleaning Pump!

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The Mark II Keg and Carboy Washer [Review] can clean a lot of your homebrewing gear.  Kegs, Carboys, Speidel Fermenters, Tubing, Small Parts & Pieces, Buckets, Keggles and more.

A small hardware purchase can convert your Keg and Carboy Washer over to an efficient ball lock draft line cleaning pump.

Cue drumroll.  And… It’s this thing…

Free shipping Stainless steel Carbonation Cap w/ 5/16" Barb, Ball Lock Type, fit soft drink PET bottles, Homebrew Kegging
Stainless steel Carbonation Cap w/ 5/16″ Barb, Ball Lock Type, fit soft drink PET bottles, Homebrew Kegging

It’s a stainless steel ball lock carbonator cap that is typically intended to use with 1L and 2L PET (soda type) bottles for force carbing and transporting beer (soda, etc).  Why does it include a barb?  I have no idea, but it comes in really handy for this purpose.

cln_img_9641A photo of just the carbonator capcln_img_9644A carbonator cap would typically work with a gas QD and this does.cln_img_9642However, it also works (easily) with a liquid QD.  Not sure why it’s designed like this, but it is and this is another important feature.cln_img_9646To adapt the Keg and Carboy Cleaner for Ball Lock draft lines just attach the stainless carbonator cap to a length of 1/4″ ID tubing (the shorter the better).  Attach the unused end to the smaller of the two included barbs (intended for cleaning tubing) and whammo… you’ve got a line cleaner.  I didn’t use any clamps.  Things held together fine and disassemble for easy cleaning.

cln_img_9654I use a piece of 1/2″ ID silicone tubing over my faucets to return cleaning, rinsing and sanitizing solution back to the Keg and Carboy Cleaner’s basin.  Recirculating means you can run this for a long time (according to your cleaner’s recommendations).  You may also save money by using less cleaner and sanitizer.

This has the advantage of cleaning everything in your draft system.  It cleans the faucet, the shank, the quick disconnect and the tubing.  Some line cleaning pump designs I’ve seen have you removing the beer nut and placing the hand pump apparatus directly on the shank.  That’s some work disassembling and reassembling and it also skips the line and quick disconnect.

cln_img_9657Here is a photo that should hopefully give you an idea about flow rate.  If you look at my original Draft Line Cleaning Pump Build, you’ll see that I don’t believe you need a gushing fire hose-like flow rate.  The important thing, in my book, is touching all parts and constant flow.  Along those lines, if you’re looking for your draft cleaning pump to resemble a pressure washer, I’d suggest looking for something different.  I spent no time on trying to increase flow for this build.  It’s going to depend on your line length and where you place the Keg and Carboy Washer in relation to the top of your shank.

cln_img_9660A look at the 1/2″ ID tubing over my Perlick faucetcln_img_9666The Keg and Carboy Washer can be a bit unwieldy to pick up when full.  You can drain a good bit of liquid off by redirecting the discharge tubing to a bucket.

cln_img_9649I have added this switch to my Keg and Carboy Washer setup.  It allows me to easily turn the pump on and off without plugging and unplugging it.  This switch appears to be similar although not the exact same part number… [GE 52149 Handy Switch Grounded White].  You may want to add a GFCI Adapter and for safety, always read and follow manufacturer’s warnings.

1312Alternative for Pin Lock, Sankey and Ball Lock Systems.  I know of no similar Pin Lock style carbonator cap.  You get nearly the same benefit by replacing that with a 1/4″ Male Flare to 1/4″ Barb Fitting.  Remove your MFL Pin Lock QDs and attach to this fitting.  The only thing you’re missing is including the Pin Lock QDs in the cleaning process.  This would also work for Sankey and ball lock setups, you just need to have 1/4″ MFL lines.

Prior to getting a Keg and Carboy Washer myself, I consistently heard great things about it.  I can confirm the praise.  This is a great piece of equipment that saves me time.  The additional ability to clean lines with little additional expense sweetens the deal further.  The Mark II Keg and Carboy Washer is one of our Top Finds.

Mark’s Keg & Carboy Washer can be found at…

Carbonator Cap: Free shipping Stainless steel Carbonation Cap w/ 5/16″ Barb, Ball Lock Type, fit soft drink PET bottles, Homebrew Kegging – Note that this ships directly from Asia

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Tip: Using a Pedal Foot Switch for Easy Pump Operation

MLCS 9089 Billy Pedal Foot Switch, 2 Step ON/OFF(Continuous Running)

I use this on/off foot pedal foot switch for easy, hands free control of my March Pump while brewing.  I’ve used the same one since of March of 2011 and it works great.  I keep it at the base of my Blichmann TopTier, relatively close to where my pump sits.  One foot press turns the pump on or off.

MLCS 9089 Billy Pedal Foot Switch, 2 Step ON-OFF Continuous Running

I use my March pump for: recirculating my mash, transferring from mash tun to brew kettle, chilling using a recirculating immersion chiller and transferring to my fermenter.

Always be cautious when using your pump with hot liquids and read and follow manufacturers directions.

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BIAB Brew Day Spreadsheet – Water Calculations + Narrative Directions

Brew in a Bag (BIAB) is a quick, easy and economical way to brew all grain batches of beer.  I released my brew day spreadsheet some time ago along with a version of that to be used for small batch beers.  See below for links.  Either of those could be modified to work with BIAB by changing variables,  This version is specifically designed for full size BIAB batches.  Related: Hands on Review: The Brew Bag – Purpose Made BIAB

How do I use brew day spreadsheets?  First, I do use recipe formulation software.  Some of those programs have brew day components.  I’ve just never gotten into using those features.  For better or worse, I use a spreadsheet.  I make a copy and name it using the batch number and beer name and then quickly plug in the basics.  This creates a one sheet printable page that I can use on brew day.  That gives me a single piece of paper with all of my numbers and a spot for brew day notes.  Notes can go back into the spreadsheet for archival.

Brew Day Sheet (click to enlarge):

homebrew brew in a bag biab spreadsheetThis is the main sheet where you will fill in information about your beer and your mash parameters.

Color Coding: Green Cells are information that you can fill in and Blue/Light Gray Cells are calculated.

General Layout and Flow: Start with Beer Name, Brew Date, Batch Number and 1:Beer Info.  Fill in current grain temp under 2:Strike Water Temperature and step by step directions are populated under 3:BIAB Directions.  Constants on the right hand can be set once for your setup and adjusted as needed.  The bottom section of this sheet contains three calculators explained below.

1:Beer Info: Basic information about your beer and mash profile.

 “Reserve (gallons)” B12 Cell: Allows you to set aside a set number of gallons for sparge, dunking, topping off, etc.  This is subtracted from the total strike water value.  It is assumed that you will add or use this at some point.

“Mash Volume – Can I mash it?”: This field estimates total mash volume including grain and water.  This is an estimate.  The cell turns red if the projected volume of your mash exceeds the size of your mash tun.  This is an adaptation of the formula found on the Green Bay Rackers Calculators Page.

2:Strike Water Temp: Fill in the Beer Info section and your Grain’s current Temperature (cell B5) and the spreadsheet calculates your strike water temperature (cell B6).  Note that the temperature will be offset by the “Undershoot Mash Temp” (cell H7).  Read the constants section for more info on that.

Strike Water Volume: Calculates the amount of water you will need in both quarts and gallons.

Volume Needed – Start of Boil and 15 Minutes Remaining: These sections list required water volume at two important times.  The 15 minute calculation attempts to take into account expansion of wort at boiling.  Take a measurement at 15 minutes and use this figure to correct a low volume.

Constants: The constants section has some variables that you can adjust based on your setup.  For example, I’ve found that grain absorption for my crush is right around .11 gallons/lb.  I think that will be close for you but you can tweak it here if you observe something different.

A note on “Undershoot Mash Temp” – This cell allows you to come in under your desired mash temp.  Why would you want to do that?  It’s easier to ramp up a degree or two vs cool down a degree or two.  This number is subtracted from the calculated Strike Water Temperature recommendation (cell B6).

I suggest reviewing the Constants section to make adjustments for your setup.

3: BIAB Directions: These are narrative step-by-step directions that you can follow after you fill in Beer Info, Grain Temp and Constants.  Note that you can use the table from the “Summary Tab” for on the go adjustments to the strike temp referenced in step 1.

Calculators – The bottom three sections of this tab are calculators.  These calculators can pull from cells in the top portion of the tab, but they do not affect 3:BIAB Directions.

Gravity: This is an adaption of Sean Terrill’s Refractometer Calculator (used by permission).  Thanks Sean for your excellent work on this!

Efficiency: This calculation uses your recipe software’s efficiency setting for a particular recipe along with target gravity to figure efficiency.  That means no re-entering fermentables for every batch.  I figure efficiency when going from the mash tun to the boil kettle.  This is a calculator in the sense that it is standalone and has no bearing on other calculations or cells.

Anytime Gravity Estimate and Correction:  Plug in volume, boil time and gravity figures at any time during your brew day and this calculator will suggest volume and gravity corrections.  Accepts either gravity or Brix (if both are present the Brix value is used).  If you are under volume, I would suggest correcting volume and then re-checking gravity.  This calculator makes no attempt to correct volumes or gravities that are too high.

Summary Sheet (click to enlarge):BIAB Water Calculation Spreadsheet Homebrew

This is setup to print on a regular 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper and gives a rundown of essential brew day tasks and data.  I use this print out on brew day.

Prepare:  This is a simple to do checklist.  You can modify this section as you see fit based on your procedure.

Water Volumes/Gravity:  This projects the volume and gravity you should have at three stages (start of boil, 15 minutes remaining and end of boil).  The last two columns (lb DME/pt and grams) are meant to allow you to easily correct your gravity at those stages.  Each of those amounts should add 1 gravity point to your beer.  Let’s say you’re three points down at the start of the boil.  With the example in this graphic, you would add .42 lbs of DME to correct the gravity of the 6 gallon batch.  Bam… that’s easy!

Hop/Adjunct Schedule: You can choose either grams or ounces.  If you choose ounces it will also be converted to grams.

Strike Temp:  This is a table version of the calculated strike temp found on the brew day sheet.  The initial temperature can be changed.  This changes subsequent values.  If you’re using a summary printout, you can measure the temp of your grain and refer to this chart for the appropriate strike temp.

Log and Notes Sheet (click to enlarge):homebrewing excel spreadsheet

Log: This section is meant to log actions taken on the beer (fermentation temp changes, dry hopping, oak additions, etc).  It calculates the time that has elapsed since brew day, between actions and since the action took place.

Notes: Simple notes section.

Download
This is a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet.  I would suggest running this through your previous calculation methods to double check that all this makes sense for you and to verify constants.  I don’t want you coming back to me and complaining the your double IPA is a Pale Ale because of me. :)

Homebrew Finds BIAB Spreadsheet

If you have a question or suggestion for the spreadsheet, send me an email.

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