Port Wine With WLP530 and Advanced Brewing: Yeast Washing

In continuing the experiments with fermenting weird stuff, the newest experiment is 1 gallon of welches grape juice and 1 lbs of dark brown sugar.


It tastes like port wine.

But that’s not the point, and it’s not what the post is about. The experiments are driven by two factors: No-one really seems to be exploring fermenting non-beery things with beer yeast and the experiments have to be cheap enough that if the product is total junk, I can toss it. The biggest hurdle here is yeast. Good yeast, which is usually $7 a phial, is way to expensive to be tossing on top of apple juice and brown sugar, grape juice and brown sugar, motor oil and other things you might want to experiment with fermenting and drinking.

As usual, we’re using a standard 6.5 stopper, three piece airlock, carlos rossie 4 quart jugs, WLP530 and whatever I feel like feeding the WLP530. Why 530? It’s got a nice flavor profile (it worked really well for the cider) and it seems fairly tolerant of.. me feeding it terrible stuff. The downside – it operates really slowly. Really slowly. Even on it’s own fermenting good old maltose it’s just slow. The cider took a month, and I wasn’t sure if the cider was going to work. In typical fashion it took three days to get started and it will probably take it a month to finish.

The yeast wash was fairly easy and I think I overthought the problem the last time. Take the yeast trub (the slurry on the bottom of the bottle) preferably by pouring your product off from it as gently as possible into a bottle or another jug, then fill the original jug up with water and shake it. The yeast is now suspended in the water. Put some foil or wrap on top and put it in the fridge for a week or until the yeast settles back down. (Note that if you brewed an all grain batch, you’ll see two layers. The bottom layer is proteins from the grains and you don’t want this). Do this until the water runs clear, usually twice or three times.

Once you have it down this far, you want to pour off the water one last time and then stir up the slurry. Pour this into a glass or (ideally) the tube the original yeast was shipped in. Top up with water (or it will mold), seal, save $7.

That being said, to get the yeast to start you either need a stir plate (but this is a post for another time) or you need a bubbler stone. The stir plate is the better option in my opinion because the yeast is going to clump up and sit on the bottom. That’s why you need the bubbler, you need to put air in the product. Lacking either one of these, I just put a cap on the carlos rossi bottle and shook the hell out of it once I had put the yeast in. This worked, but like I said, it’s a slow starting yeast which is made even slower because of the lack of oxygen in the wort.

So hows it coming along? Three days into it, it’s finally to the place I would expect actual wort to be bubbling after 12 hours (a bubble every second or so). I’m thinking the grape juice either has chemical preservatives in it or its way too acidic for this yeast. ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE. If it plays out the way the cider did, it should finish sweet and have enough complexity to satisfy jaded drinkers while being easy (and cheap) enough to make to keep as a table wine.

Apple Wine: First Fermentation Done Without Cider/Wine Yeast

This is the first time anyone to the best of my knowledge has written up anything about fermenting apple juice/cider with something that isn’t cider/wine yeast.

My LHBS got their apple cider buckets in and I had to make cider. The recipe (I am working from a recipe since I have little cider experience) calls for diluting the cider to 10 gallons and throwing in two yeast packets. The tasting room at the homebrew store had some really good stuff. I am confident in this recipe. However, before we got into the recipe at the homebrew store, I had to do test runs. Test runs are like most other homebrew things where I take cheap glass jars (1 gallon) and put whatever I want in there. In this case, I prefer carlos rossi wines. My wife likes their blush and their sangria, and I like to ferment things in them. 1 gallon is also a good size since 1 gallon will scale to 5 easily. (There are scaling issues with some recipes, but generally unless you’re working with spices it’s mostly immaterial).

I got one gallon of standard issue apple juice, and 1 lbs of brown sugar. I heated the apple juice just enough to get the sugar to dissolve and put that in my carlos rossi jar. The carlos rossi wine jugs accept 6 or 6.5 bungs, I prefer 6.5 because it’s harder to push them into the neck. In one jug of delicious fortified apple juice I put in WLP001 (Cali Common) and in the other jug I put in WLP530 (Abbey Ale). Then I let them sit. The WLP001 sort of poked along (it’s known for this), but the WLP530 went off like a rocket. The WLP530 took a month to stop bubbling, the WLP001 was done in two weeks or so.

But, how does it taste?

The WLP001 is basically a bitch drink, it tastes like sweet cider, which is still very drinkable with no discernible alcohol taste. For something which is firmly session beer (4%), it’s quite drinkable. We also found mixing it with mead gives it really interesting notes. The Abbey Ale yeast managed to get it’s cider up to 8%, but it’s wonderfully dry, sharp stuff without being offensive. The abbey ale yeast managed to be fruity with just a touch of ester, it had a wonderful warm nose and a sharp taste on the tongue. Even for being still, it really came out well, and I would love to carbonate it.

That being said, the 10 gallons from the main batch is going to consume both my kegs if I keg it, but I plan on bottling as much as I can and possibly force carbing the rest. The main batch is fermented with wine yeast, but I almost wish I had done a five gallon batch with the abbey ale yeast and 5lbs brown sugar. Well, there’s always next year…

The current state of the kegerator: Orange soda, ginger beer, two ciders

Grain Mill

My wife got me a grain mill for our anniversary which is absolutely sweet. This is a three roller mill, which means that I can flake the oats of the apocalypse (or just get a nice crush). The problem is it’s a bit on the small side. This means it might take awhile to crush, but if I were hurting for time I wouldn’t be making my own beer. This is the roller mill from wheat grass mills (link). There’s no size reference on the website so I will give you a picture:

From Drop Box

Blackberry included for scale. The blackberry did not go through the grinder. As you can see, this isn’t a huge system. That’s good though, it still needs to be hand cranked. For reference, it has three settings (small flake, large flake, flower) but these settings have a stop between them for giving us six total settings. To further make this hilarious, there’s really nothing stopping you from having stops in between there so long as you keep your hand on the adjustment knob.

How do we get more grain in there?

Make a funnel!

It comes with a wooden box which protects the plastic funnel for shipping, so I didn’t see a problem using that for something else. I was already at walmart for the dog food bin (air tight, 50lbs, or one grain bag) so what else could I do but buy a cheap bowl?

I took my vibratory cutter and plunge cut the bottom of the bowl. To get the right shape, take the wood it shipped in and trace it on the bottom of the bowl. Cut on the inside of these lines so that there’s a tight fit.


From Drop Box

Happy Halloween! Now all I need is to buy bulk grain and roast it myself and I am set! Special thanks to my awesome wife for getting me MOAR BEER TOYS.

The Spoils of Wort: IPA, Mead

I took a hiatus from brewing because I bought a house and had a kid. The one-two punch really put a dent in the hobbies. More on the point I couldn’t find half the fucking equipment for the longest time and there was one totally aborted batch somewhere in the middle due to the electric range not cutting it for brewing.

The previous electric range in the apartment was actually better, but did nothing to spread the heat so the eventual outcome was scorching on the brewpot until I figured out the flashing trick.

If you are interested in brewing on an electric range, the quick fix for hotspots is to buy a turkey fryer and never brew on your electric range again. If you absolutely insist on not owning a turkey fryer, then go to home depot, buy a piece of flashing (for a building) and so long as it’s not lead, it will work as a heat spreader. If you have an electric cooktop, it already has this. But seriously, buy a turkey fryer.

I’ve been getting hops off my Goldings rhizome for several years now and they just end up in the freezer. I think I killed it this year transplanting it into the garden, which sucks, but three years for a hop vine is actually a fairly long time. Point being, Goldings are supposed to be piney, sweet and floral. These were headed towards grassy. However, being an IPA, I decided to toss them in anyway for aroma. Hops tend to depend strongly on where they’re grown, so the “apartment hops” are going to be different from the “house hops” if they survived. More on the point hops don’t have very strong separation unless made in tightly controlled conditions, which tends to lead to hop of the month. I also grew chinooks, but it was never very good and finally expired, probably due to acidic hops needing more neutral soil than I could provide in a balcony pot.

The recipe was a basic IPA base, which is to say 16lbs pale and 1lbs caramel. Actually I made that 2lbs caramel and dropped the special B, pils and special roast because at .25 lbs, they don’t contribute anything. If it were black patent or chocolate, they would have made the beer roasty. Also my mash water is slightly on the high side since my thermometer didn’t survive the winter and I need to purchase another one. My best guess is that the water was 175F to 180F since the thermometer now has the column of color and then a thin line of it 5 degrees higher up. Fortunately they’re only $3. I also disagree with the 45 minute mash, generally longer is better when it comes to mash with the cutoff being when the mash drops to 160F or so it’s time to drain it before it really cools down and makes grain jello. My mash was roughly 1h15m.

I ended up using more make up water than I wanted due to me not paying as much attention as I should be and letting the mess boil over. Plus the late addition of hops usually means the brew kicks up. I need a bigger pot is really the root cause of this so I can keep a hard boil on while not worrying about what the hops are going to do to nucleation. This isn’t a huge problem with IPAs since the emphasis is on the hops and I had planned to use some of my own anyway.

The cooldown I decided to do entirely differently. Normally I’m a fan of the hot water bath or wort chiller, but now I’ve got a basement which hangs out at about 70F. A bit warm for lagering but perfect for just about anything else. The new plan was to simply put the beer in the carboy and put a plastic bag loosely over the top and let it sit overnight. The airlock here is a trap because the wort will suck in air as it cools. The air in the carboy is going to contract, the more it does so the more vacuum is built up in the fermenter and it’s perfectly capable of sucking all the water out of the airlock. The double-bubble airlocks really shine here because it works both ways. If the water is below the half way mark, it’ll keep the nastiness out. 3 pieces will pull the water right into your beer. So, if you have a double-bubble, use that if you’re not going to chill the beer ahead of time. It’s not the best filter, but it’s better than the bag. My double-bubble went AWOL in the move, hence the bag. Water isn’t the best filter, but as the K5 Bong Squad will tell you, it does filter whatever bubbles through it to some extent.

Dry hopping – I put in hop flowers and I really should have shredded them before doing it. Since they’re frozen, they’re plenty crumbly. It made a real mess to clean out of the fermenter. Plus they float. Not only do you lose the trub on the bottom but you lose the beer on top now that it’s filled with hops. I think I only lost four bottles out of what I expected to get but that’s four less bottles to drink. There’s a reason why those wine filters are so popular in the brewing community, and this is the reason.

Yeast – I double-pitch now because I’m paranoid that the long cooldown period will let things get into the beer I don’t want. Buying two yeast packets instead of one is cheap insurance.

A week later and the beer hadn’t settled, so I let it sit for two weeks and some change and things had improved. Also make a mental note to buy a keg kit. Actually washing out two cases of bottles, sterilizing them, and then washing them out again is crap. Not that kegs are easier to clean but they’re certainly better than 50 bottles. The beer is good.

My wife eventually got the beer envy and said “Lets try making mead!” Note that we still have that lonely bottle in the basement from beeguy via Rusty, I keep saying we should drink it and she keeps coming up with reasons why not. I think it’s getting on four years old now. One of these days I swear it’s going to grow wings and fly away.

Now, BEERLAB 2021 is already setup to do wine because my wife thinks Arbor Mist is good wine. Then, just because Arbor Mist wasn’t shitty enough, there’s a brand of wine kit called Harbor Mist which is absolutely fucking foul. Any wine which requires you to add “concentrated watermelon flavor” to the mix – probably crap. The two year old bottles are actually passable because that shit gets toned down but no-one is going to mistake it for wine. We’ve had OK luck foisting it on people as wine coolers. Also a note on better bottles versus glass. Better bottles, despite all claims, pick up the hop smell. If you use a better bottle for beer, you cannot use it for wine. I have been playing with the idea of adding noble hops to wine or fermenting wine in a beer bucket if the nose is right, but I want to hear from more winemakers before committing to it. I’ve had the better bottles for a few years so they’ve got some wear on them. I also have a glass carboy and I prefer to use that.

Anyway, mead is interesting. The Northern Brewer will ship just about anything for $7.99. While it’s not a huge savings for one kit, if you order two it’s a steal. In fact they have an extremely nice selection of mead kits so I just picked a beer kit (petit saison) and we got them both. Of course, she got sweet mead and let me tell you it lives up to it’s name. The mead kit comes with energy mix, whatever that is, and three more small satchels of the same. It also comes with the standard overpitch of yeast. Of course it also comes with a metric ton of basswood honey.

Now when I link to that, it’s so you can see the color and get some tasting notes. Be that as it may, this honey from northern brewer was raw. It was slightly darker than that, strong smelling, had shit floating in there to the point of being opaque and it had a layer of stuff on the bottom. NB sends a note with it – “it’s normal for the honey to be opaque since this is brewing honey, not table honey”. OK maybe it’s a UK thing, but I wasn’t aware there was “table honey”. The instructions said it would clarify when it was warmed, which to their credit it mostly did but I’m still not sure you would want to eat it straight from the bottle. There were no mummified bees present in it’s golden depths.

Now, if this were wine there would be warming, a brief boiling period, etc. Mead is a lot more raw than wine and the process is dead simple: Warm bottles in a hot water bath, boil some water. Stir in big yeast nutrient phial in boiled water and add yeast. Fill fermenter half way with warm water. Pour in honey. Top up. Done.

I changed this a bit.

I’m in the camp that the yeast should be re-hydrated with whatever you’re going to put them in. Reason being that the yeast are sensitive to temperature and they are strongly sensitive to Ph. I could have saved some honey and put that in the water but the easiest way of doing it is to toss the yeast straight way into the fermenter. Since we already have to stir up the honey and we need to stir in the yeast food, it only makes sense to put the yeast in the must (unfermented wine-product) and stir and stir again. I did not observe any adverse effects.

The honey at this point was quite pretty and golden.

The next day – it stank. To make it more fun, there’s three additions of yeast food 24 hours apart. If it stinks now, you can bet that it would stink for subsequent feedings. Trust me, it did. It only got worse. Every time we fed it for the next three days it smelled like all sorts of strange smells. Sulphur and overripe apples abound. I was actually getting worried it had spoiled, except every time we gently stirred it we got CO2 out so I knew the yeast was working properly. Fortunately we have a radon mitigation system in the basement and it’s fairly flowy so most of it was going out the top of the house. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was unique. Once you smell it you notice it’s everywhere.

A week later I went downstairs for something unrelated and noticed it was cloudy and highlighter yellow. I was starting to fear the worst so I got out the trusty wine spoon and gave it a quick cleaning. I stick it in there and KABOOM. All the suspended CO2 came out, it looked like soda. Six gallons of highlighter yellow mountain dew. I decided to lick the spoon and it was delicious. Honey, apples, flowers and sugar. Oh this is going to be dangerous. Yes it is.

The First Lager

First Lager

First Lager

Well folks, there is is. The first lager. It will be done in two months, so basically this is my birthday beer and my beer for my son. Maybe I’ll save him a bottle until he’s 21. OR MAYBE DRINK IT ALL MYSELF.

The fridge is a freezer I sourced from craigslist. The temp control is a Johnson’s temp control I got on the cheap because they’re redoing the probes to not break when you freeze them. (Good thing I am not freezing beer). The yeast, Saflager 34-70, says it should be kept between 60F and 70F, so I have the controls set to 60F figuring the beer will always be a bit warmer on it’s own.

The kit, and yes I brewed with a kit this time, is Bavarian Dunkel. I was genuinely impressed with Northern Brewer, they included a bunch of first timer swag and the stuff all came extremely well packed. The instruction sheet wasn’t in there but I know how to brew so I’m comfortable with this. The kit inventory is online, which is nice, as is the promash script for it.

The only gotcha was my stove can’t do a rolling boil, but I still got a hot break out of the mash. Strange, but now a burner is on my christmas list.

Now the hard part – waiting.

Making an All Grain System

I made the oath I would jump to allgrain sometime in this lifetime. The hobbles always were that it was expensive to buy a “kit”, so I got the brilliant idea to head over to MR2 Beer Home Depot and get the fitting myself. Since the valves are usually around $25 alone on the brewing sites, if I could do it for $25 total, I would consider it a success.

I made it all for $17.

I had bought an eight gallon gatoraide cooler awhile ago on the ebay. I never got around to using it for beer. The previous owner had used it extensively and said the valve would need to be replaced. I picked it up for a penny + S&H. Getting the stupid valve for it would prove to be impossibly hard, so I just waysided it until the light bulb went on one day and I realized Home Depots plastic fittings were all food safe along with the sealant in the plumbing aisle. If you’re playing along at home, now would be a good time to mention that the only food safe plumbing and sealer is the one in the plumbing aisle. Don’t get tempted by the much cheaper pipes in the other aisles (landscaping), or you’ll be wondering why your beer tastes like plastic. And, just to be safe, I plan on running boiling water through the whole thing anyway to make sure it’s water tight and not going to taste like plastic.

A few notes on what we’re building:
* Bazooka Screen, not false bottom.
* Brass is OK so long as it comes from the plumbing aisle.
* Plasic is OK so long as it comes from the plumbing aisle.
* Don’t substitute things from gardening.
* We’re going to use zip ties for fasteners.

Why zip ties? They’re not big enough to cause problems with being “food safe” or not, and I’m worried about making a “metal sandwich” and getting corrosion under there. With the zip ties, we avoid getting a metal sandwich and the possibility of making a battery by accident is reduced. Zip ties also are flexible. Remember, the seal doesn’t have to be perfect and the goal is to smash grain on top, a bit of give in the plumbing will help eliminate grains being squished through your filter.

Now, I would directly link you to the parts, but in fantastic oversights of inventory management, you can’t find the damned parts online. So bear with me, make a list, and go to your own home depot.

* some kind of water cooler, used new or otherwise. These are almost always 3/8ths in. dia. for the spigot.
* 3/8ths inch spigot. You can get the plastic ones which are exactly like their brass counterparts for $8. The brass or stainless ones probably will last longer, but seriously, how many times are you going to use it compared to your sink?
* Brass (trust me) T fitting, also 3/8ths.
* Two stainless steel lint traps. Ask for these, they’re sold in a two pack.
* Beefy zipties. If you have no zipties, stop reading and kill yourself.

The fittings are all color coded but be sure you match “universal” with “universal”. Mixing universal with flared will result in cracked plastic and leakage. The flared ones are crap anyway and should be avoided. Teflon tape is optional, but since we’re not running pressure here it shouldn’t be required. The color for 3/8ths is green. If you’re colorblind, just read the label. I like the quick disconnect spigots so I can just let them hang or attach whatever I want to it after the fact.

There will be a rubber gasket under the nut which keeps the plastic spigot against the bulkhead of the cooler. I would leave it there. You will need an adjustable wrench to get the nut off, it’s some stupid half size to keep people from messing with it, which is exactly what we intend to do.

Do yourself a huge favor and assemble the T junction first. Take your stainless lint traps, unroll them, then zip tie the open end to the T. If you have a round cooler (and I do) you will want to use a knife to loosen a small hole in the folded over portion (careful not to get into the actual tube) and thread a zip tie through that so you can zip tie them together in sort of a circle shape. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Now hold the T portion against the rubber gasket, and screw your plastic spigot through the bulkhead (it will grab the gasket, but this isn’t the thread, don’t be fooled) and into the T. Once it’s snugged up, if the spigot is upside down, back it off. Don’t try to tighten it until its right side up or you will either break the gasket, the bulkhead, or strip the plastic if it’s made of plastic. Remember, we can always add teflon tape.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re done. Make sure the zip ties are tight, fill it up with boiling water and let it sit for however long you feel is safe. Then drain the water through your spigot to get a feel of how far to open the valve for what flow rate. I would suggest making a mark with a black marker on the plastic for “recommended”. Remember, the water is going to flow faster out of the valve than wort will. From here, you can pretty much take this project anywhere you want. If you have a box cooler, for instance, I would buy another few sets of lint trap screens, and a cross instead of a T fitting so you could have even more drainage. Instead of a pipe to the spigot, for instance, cut the end off the screen so you have a “screen pipe” and use that as your pipe.

If you did this from Northern Brewer, it would cost $50 to $100 depending on if you bought the cooler from them, etc. For my project, the cooler was $5 from ebay, and the parts were an additional $17.

The Spoils of… MUST?!

I had to run down a bottle of one step sanitizer for my pilsner I had fermented at 90F. Rather than let it go to waste, when I took the lid off the fermenter there were really neat apple, fruit, apricot notes. I decided that while it wasn’t nearly on style, it would be interesting to drink. Then I realized I was out of sanitizer so off to the homebrew store. I decided to go to the crappy one. It’s closer, but the guy is much more into winemaking than he is into beermaking. However, with the overlap of simple supplies like tools, buckets, and sterilizer, it made it a reasonable choice.

But then my wife wanted to come.

Actually this isn’t a bad thing – spending time with the wife, and she might get into brewing I thought to myself. She liked some of the brews I put together before I worked the IPA thing out (grossly underhopped) and she drinks the cheap brown I made out of whatever was left in the fridge. Actually, she drank enough of it to throw off the brewing schedule so that the pilsner won’t be ready in time to finish the case assuming I have a beer a night. A few times having friends over and whatnot and suddenly the beer larder is looking bare.

We got to the store and I found he had reclaimed almost all the beer shelf space for winemaking and installed a humidor. His prices on the remaining beer items were high, especially considering that I’m not a huge fan of Munton’s malt extract. It just doesn’t grab me flavor-wise and I find myself having to use a ton of specialty grains to get decent flavor profiles. Which is fine for esoteric, holiday beers that require dead chickens and fairy dust as an adjunct but for table-beer, this isn’t a good situation to be in. Coopers and John Bull both made stuff I liked, until John went under. Of course, only the Muntons hadn’t been bought up, and what was left of the dusty cans was pretty specialized malt.

We get in there and get talking, and my wife notices that he’s got a huge winemaking section complete with oak barrels of various toast, a spice rack filled with the standard beer spices (coriander, poppy, coffee, etc), books upon books on winemaking, and a huge selection of grape extracts, grape kits (freeze dried grapes?) and wine kits. Instead of hop vines, he’s selling vine cuttings. My wife couldn’t resist. I came in for two $5 packages of cleaner, and I could see I was going to be leaving with probably a few more buckets.

The wine equipment kits have a strong overlap with the beer kits. They have a siphon, hydrometer, two buckets, a corker, an airlock, pretty much what you would expect. Oh, and a small instruction book that basically says, “It as easy as pouring from A to B and adding yeast!” Well that’s what Mr Beer said to me also a few years ago and we saw how well that scratched the itch. Talking with the guy I asked him what it would take to go from a beer kit to a wine kit. He said I would need a new bucket and a new carboy. I asked if having a 6.5g carboy would cut it. He said I would be better off in the bucket for the headspace (the bucket is actually close to 8 US gallons, so I don’t mind buying it for an all grain setup). He also said the carboys for wine are supposed to be filled up to the top by the airlock, and valid configurations were 6 gallons – to the brim. The reason for this, he said, is because the wine oxidizes much quicker than beer. And unlike beer, he says, where the carbonation and yeast activity let you get away with some oxidation, this will spoil your wine very quickly. If you’re looking to make the jump, you need a new bucket, and a new carboy.

I told him “thanks for your information” and was going to excuse myself, but it was too late – my wife had found a kit.

There’s two types of kits: Crushed grape kits where they haven’t removed the water (literally 1 lug which is about 12 lbs of grapes – crushed), and grape extract kits which are exactly like beer malt extract kits. It’s enough grape-smash condensed that you need to add the water to six gallons and you’re good. Both of these include or should include the skins since there’s flavors there which pruno isn’t going to give you fermenting store grapejuice. Hold the bag up to the light and make sure there’s some particulate floating in there, and he showed me. It looked like jelly. My wife interrupted and asked about watermellon merlot verus the honeysuckle one.

“Oh but let me show you!” he says, and runs into the back.

There was some rummaging around and some quiet. I looked at my wife expecting that he had just hung himself and we were about to be party to murder but when I poked my head into the stock room he was in the back trying to read labels. I pulled out my PDA and lit the room dimly to reveal what could have been a scene from National Treasure 3: Dungeon of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rows upon rows of bottles stored in the back of the shop with the boxtops pasted to the shelves and serving as labels.

“Here’s the one…” he said “…your wife will like it. It’s similar to what you’ve got but it’s their kiwi strawberry white”.

He pulled out a 750ml bottle off a shelf, blew the dust off, and brought it out. “This kit makes 30 of these”. There’s exactly .2 gallons of dregs, called “lees” in the fermenter when we’re done. “Now, the kit says ‘delicious taste in four weeks’, which does not mean ‘ready to drink’. You need to bottle it in four weeks and then it sits in your fridge for four months while it fines. This bottle is six months old, give it a try!” Before we could say no he popped out the cork and had poured us two shares into plastic wine goblets. I should probably ask where he got those… The smell was good. I don’t normally like whites, but it wasn’t tart and definitely tasted fruity as advertised without the Sam Adams Lambic flavor (fruit syrup like Cherry Coke). In fact, it was really, really drinkable. Which was bad because it was also about 17% ABV if the box is to be believed.

My wife was sold.

We got home, sterilized the kit (I bought another airlock just because those things are handy) and I showed her how the hydrometer worked. She cleaned the bucket, the airlock, and the hydrometer kit while I read the instructions. Sure enough, it takes four weeks in the fermented, transferred once to secondary to get it off the lees (dregs), and then needs four months in the bottle in a “location free of light and under 60F” to lager. Whoever wrote “tastes great after four weeks” probably was fresh out of prison.

Alright, so what’s actually involved? Cool water, open the bag, fill fermenter with about a gallon, wash the rest of the bag out with warm water into the fermenter and top it off. These are cool space bags which are double-layered and vacuum sealed, making them impossible to open. Don’t bother trying to rip off their airlock, just cut open the top and don’t drop the inner bag into the outer bag and cover everything in grapes. Your OG should be 1.06 or close. Here’s where it differs from beer – you add bentonite (a fining agent) to the primary and try to keep as much air out as possible. The bag is simply labeled with a big number 1 on it so you know “use bag #1 – bentonite” means #1.

After two weeks, and the kit is written well to tip you off you’re going to need to lift the whole mess at some point, they tell you to siphon off the wine while reserving a small portion in another container. Why? You need to fill the carboy to the very very top with wine, which leaves you no room to stir. With other additives needed to actually make wine, you need to be able to stir. Once it’s racked, package 2a is sulphite (what gives some people, including myself, “wine hangovers”) and 2b is potassium sorbate. The potassium sorbate kills off the yeast, and everything else. The wine needs to be degassed, which if you’ve ever added spices to beer, you know the effect. The beer or wine has suspended carbonation and since carbonated wine would be weird, we need to get that out. This is accomplished by stirring. Package D1 is kieselsol and package D2 is chitosan. There’s a stern warning to add D1 first, and stir for no less than a minute, then add D2 and do the same. Reversing them carries dire, but unspecified consequences. Just what is the stuff? Ask Mr Wizard. Slowly add the reserve until we’re within “two inches” of the airlock. That’s how important oxidation is to wine. The instructions advise adding any flavorings now.

Two weeks later, the wine should be “delicious” according to the box. From here’s it’s pretty standard beer fare. Siphon the wine into the bottles while leaving an inch from the bottom of the cork, insert the cork, let the wine stand upright for a day (this is another de-gassing to avoid carbonation) and then store the bottles on their sides in the fridge “two to three months” prior to consuming. There’s no word on what happens if you store them warmer for two to three months. Considering I don’t like fruity wines, I shudder to consider it.

Brewing Beer on Todays Subprime Mortgage Budget

Everything is more expensive nowadays. Beer, grain, bread, beer, food, gas, and beer. The important things in life it seems. How can we rectify this situation?

We should conserve food, water, and grain by combining them into beer. But how do we make the jump cheaply without buying one of those $100 beer brewing kits and a bunch of pots and pans?

Inside, the secrets of cheap beer!

The first thing you need: Throw out any preconceived notions of style or brand. We’re going to make the AK47 of beers – cheap, reliable, and works with sand in it. If you say “MAN I LIKE SAM ADAMS SHOW ME HOW TO MAKE THAT FOR $10 ‘CAUSE I SPENT MY OTHER $5 ON THIS ACCOUNT”, this guide isn’t for you. This is for someone who wants to get into the hobby on the cheap and see what the homemade beer craft is all about.

The $80 beer kits generally come with a few specialty items you won’t be able to bullshit together. Bottle-cappers are almost exclusively a tool of the serious brewer and the kit includes one. Kits also include a small bag of caps, two buckets, a siphon, a hydrometer, and an airlock. That’s a lot of stuff for the price of a PS3 game and you will never have to purchase it again. But what about doing it bit by bit? I had originally bought a $80 kit (actually it was $60 locally and included enough materials to make a beer) but wish I had sprung the extra $40 for a glass carboy after ruining a bucket. Lesson learned: Spend a bit more and get the glass if you’re buying a kit.

But lets put this idea on hold for a minute and ask ourselves if we really need all of this. What would we need in an absolute, bare bones kit for brewing beer in prison or at the end of the world? You would need:
* A bucket. Find a walrus and steal one, or follow this handy guide.
* A lid for the bucket.
* Something to poke a hole with.
* A tube to poke into the hole.
* A cup of water.
* Some plastic soda bottles which add up to 5 gallons including caps.

“THIS WILL MAKE BEER?” you ask! You dare question!?

You also need a beer kit. The rule of thumb is that you need at minimum 1lbs malt for 1 gallon of water. To make a half batch (2.5 gallons), use 3lbs of malt extract. For a full batch, which is five gallons and how most kits are sold, use 6 gallons. What’s the difference between 3.3lbs of liquid malt extract and 3lbs of dry malt extract? Nothing. They are 1:1 substitutable! The extra third of a pound is what little water is left in there.

Buy a 6 gallon bucket even if you’re making half batches. Why? You can make full buckets later! Various brewing stores will try to steal your money by selling you “food grade” buckets. This is a myth – “food grade” simply means #2 or better grade plastic and contains no harmful dyes. Go to your local hardware store, ask for the bucket aisle, and find a six gallon bucket. The number inside the recycling triangle tells you roughly what it’s made out of, and #1 (“soda bottle” plastic), #2 and #5 (“baby bottle” plastic) are acceptable. #3, #4, #6 and #7 are not. Pewter is not. The bucket should be white – bleached but otherwise undyed. Make sure it has a lid and doesn’t say anything crazy like “Not for storing food”. It is not acceptable to recycle buckets that held things other than food.

You need a tube. It should be long enough you can siphon with it. Again, regular old vinyl plumbing tube works great.

Take the plumbing tube, hold it against the lid like you were going to pass it through, and trace around it. Now cut a hole ever so slightly smaller in the lid. This is your blow off tube, since we’re going for the Ultimate Israeli Beer Experience and not spending $3 on an airlock. That crap gets expensive!

The 5 Gallon Mark and Cleaning
Fill a two liter soda bottle eight times and dump the water into the bucket. Now fill it once again halfway and dump that in. Make a mark on the outside of the bucket where the water level is. PROTIP: It helps to shine a light into the bucket so you can see the water line on the outside of the bucket. Now make a second mark between the this mark and the bottom of the bucket. You now have 2.5 gallon and 5 gallon marks. Sweet! But you don’t want to die, right? Lots of undesirables shop at Home Depot and your bucket might have AIDS! How do we cure AIDS? Put 5 tablespoons of really cheap bleach into your bucket and let stand for 10 minutes. Your bucket is now sterile, but covered in bleach! Wash down the sides after you dump this mess out in your tub. Your wife will approve of this project because it cleans the tub! Put on a skirt and continue cleaning. Use this mixture to clean those soda bottles you want to put beer in some day. You have enough solution made up to clean exactly the amount of bottles (and caps) you will need to bottle your beer. Isn’t this amazing?

Malt is what makes beer. There’s two kinds: Hopped-malt-extract and unhopped-malt-extract. Since we’re being lazy here and going for no-boil, you want hopped-malt-extract. This pretty much means Mr Beer cans. Each one of those cans makes about one case (2.5 gallons) of beer. Want to make two cases? That’s why you have a 5 gallon bucket! Just buy two cans and use them both! You can also use Cooper’s Cans for this, I find they’re a little more high quality than Mr Beer. But what if these have insufficient alcohol by volume for the man’s man such as yourself? Either reduce the water by 10% or add some table sugar. For darker malts, you won’t notice the table sugar anyway, so just do it. 1 lbs of sugar is worth about 4% ABV in a 5 gallon batch, so make sure you put in the whole bag. OK that won’t actually work since most yeast can only tolerate about 10% ABV for the most mutated yeast from the Three Mile Brewery, so add 1 lbs at most of table sugar for fortification.

1) Acquire malt kit.
2) Take off lid. You will find instructions and a yeast packet. Put the yeast packet somewhere safe. Discard instructions because you’re a man.
3) Open the can and pour malt into sterile bucket.
4) Use hot water to wash out the cans into the bucket.
5) Use cool water (regular tap water is OK if you like the taste) to raise the level of wort (unfermented beer) to 2.5 gallons if you only used one can or 5 gallons if you used two cans.
6) Stir like crazy. Add your pound of sugar now so you can get blind drunk on the cheap.
7) Toss in the yeast. I would suggest both packets for the 5 gallon batch since the freeze dried stuff is usually on the low side of the standard pitching rate.
8) Put on the lid. Shove the tube through it but not into the wort. You’re extracting gas, not beer at this point. The other end of the tube goes into a glass of water. It should bubble after a day.
9) After two weeks, add between 3/4 and 1 cup of table sugar to the bucket and stir again until dissolved. Don’t worry about that crap you kick up, this is getting drunked up on the cheap! Besides, it’s high in B vitamins. Now pour the beer into the bottles and cap. Forget about them for two weeks, then they are ready to drink.

Cost for this project
* 1 paint bucket – $5
* 1 10ft tube – $2
* 9 soda bottles – Free if stolen from the dump (Substitute beer bottles here, bottle caps are $10 for 150ct and you can press them on with a 32mm socket).
* Ale kit – 2 cans will run you about $16
Total Cost: $23 for your own ghetto beer kit and the cheapest swill we could assemble!

Happy brewing!