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.

Simpson Duravent Install

I feel like I’m far enough along in this project I can comment. My biggest pet peeve with this entire project at the moment is the fact that all the brackets want to be screwed into drywall and drywall simply isn’t rated to support 60lbs to 120lbs of pipe. So you end up using a 2×4 to give the bracket something to hang out on and distribute the load, and it’s not happy being on there. Not only do you lose an inch and some change, but now the rest of your measurements are thrown off.

My second pet peeve is that when you adjust the adjustable bracket because you mounted it on a 2×4 and thus threw off all your measurements, you will invariably not line up with the holes. They’ve got rails cut in it so you have some adjustment, but you really need the entire line cut or they should just tell you to be ready to drill your own holes. This “it’s adjustable, lol!” and then only giving you a quarter inch or so of play on each side isn’t cool. I ended up drilling holes to adjust it between two stops.

The lock rings are terrible. The top of the T has a lip and a smaller, more subtle lip. This is where the locking band goes. It’s not explained anywhere. I compared it to the other T they sent me and they were identical. This is just something they built into it. Also it’s possible to overtighten the lock ring, I tightened the crap out of them then I backed it off a bit. Remember – the pipe wants to expand when it gets hot. On the other hand your support bands are (correctly) made from the same steel the pipe is, so the support bands expand with the pipe. You also don’t have to worry about annealing like this.

The support band for the elbow needs a redesign. I would have killed for a simple eyelet which would let me choose the angle I wanted the band on. As it is currently done, the band has two arms come off of it and the amount you tighten the band determines the angle of the arms. I ended up simply screwing wood blocks to the drywall to support it and these blocks took up the angle off the studs which the bands required. This is simply a crap design and there’s 100 ways to solve this problem. Basically a line tensioner (the twist kind you see on fences and clotheslines) with another strip of metal coming off that would have taken care of both the angle and offset while still providing adjustable support without having to redrill the holes (which I did) when you realize the angle is subtly wrong. I was sort of tempted to cut it and make my own but any modification to UL approved equipment voids the UL rating. That and I didn’t know that the sheer force was for the existing stuff, so I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and just did the wood framing.

OK so what are the plusses? For one, the pipes are shipped lightly greased. We’ll see if this cooks off or not but it makes assembly easy. The twist lock thing works generally well with one caveat: The pipes don’t always center themselves when you do it. More than a few times I’ve reseated a pipe and either had it slightly off or had it bind up on me “unscrewing” it. The reason is that the threading on the pipe sections tends to overlap both ways because it’s not a real thread. While the design works and I’m sure it’s cheap to make, it’s not the best design in the world. There’s enough overlap between each pipe however that not having it entirely seated isn’t a show stopper, this is a good design because you expect to need a bit of here or there when working on the pipes and again the pipes will expand at different rates.

Also conspicuously missing is caulk. Would it have killed them to include caulk for the roof penetration?

All in all this is worth about 3.5/5 stars. It’s not perfect. It sucks less than other kits which require bands every section. It could have been made to be lighter and they could have done better on the hardware (one of my lock rings was entirely missing a screw). The T support is just weird that they didn’t think you were going to put it on a 2×4. On the other hand it’s entirely serviceable and tolerant of the abuse I’ve put it through doing 100 test fits. If I were to do another stove install, this is the kit I would suggest.

Diesel is Wrong, Solar is Right for Backup Power

I’ve been on my emergency preparedness kick recently, and that includes power since the storms this last year have been a real pisser. Nothing like being without power for three days in the home you just bought.

I was previously looking at military surplus diesel generators. Aside of my friends stabbing me in the neck over and over again for me asking them to help me get it on and off the truck, I’m not too huge on the idea of having Yet Another Engine to take care of. On the other hand, that particular model is so popular that theres an entire MEP-004A forum dedicated to it. And, there’s the fact that I have 250 gallons of diesel sitting in a tank in my basement labeled “home heating oil – NOT APPROVED FOR ROAD USE”.

Now, assuming that the generator goes for the nominal price of $500 to $1000 (they’re getting really popular in the post-Katrina marketplace), maybe I could do better with something else. It’s not just buying the generator – it’s buying the generator, the engine rebuild kit (if required), the wiring, and doing the conversion. Military power is usually 208v rather than 120v or 240v because it’s easy to step up/down or DC to AC convert. The other side of the coin is moving parts are the enemy. Parts which don’t move tend to want to stay that way which is why I try to start the MR2 once a month or so in winter. (I’m probably being paranoid). I don’t want to deal with that in a generator. After mulling it over quite a bit I decided to investigate various things like water service powered sump pumps (dumb), power-from-phone/coax, etc. None of these seemed well thought out. Dumping more water in your yard for the sake of pumping out water from your well is stupid. If the power lines are down, phone and cable likely is too. It was tough getting away from the idea of a diesel generator or making my own nuclear reactor. While legal, your neighbors tend to frown upon it.

Finally after a bunch of surfing around on various industrial equipment liquidation sites there was another answer: solar. Solar panels, for whatever strange reason, are dirt freaking cheap. A solar battery charger might be $20. A solar panel alone, for $20 buys you a pretty big panel. So now we have ideas, the question is how does it compare to our diesel generator at 15KW and how expensive is it? There’s a few options. I tend to shy away from the battery chargers since they are rated to charge one battery. They’re cheaply built and they assume you’re also charging one battery. Putting it under load isn’t going to happen. On the other hand I could buy the end-of-the-world version. But as everyone knows if it costs $1800 online on your end of the world site you can build it for about 10% of the price.

Lets put that idea to the test. High end rectifier: $30 from Rat Shack. Low end inverter: $71 for 1.5KW.  Why a low end inverter? I want to use cheap batteries and I suspect the rectifier puts out fairly dirty power. Expect to replace this every few years if you’re using it intermittently but more on the point you might also want to buy a much bigger, nicer unit. So for $100 we’ve got the power path from the panel to the wall socket. How much are batteries? $20 a brick. Keep in mind battery acid is now a federally controlled substance and requires you sign for it, you can get it if you ask. So you can refurb those batteries if you’re not buying sealed cell. And finally how much is a fairly large solar cell? $500 new for a high end one, but since we’re buying junkyard batteries, $100 for a new, fairly nice one or $130 on ebay for enough of them to carpet the entire roof. Since the solar cells do eventually go bad, I tend to like the ebay solution of buying the rejects in bulk so I can simply replace them as the apple tree turns them into broken glass.

Now why does this system work better than the diesel? For one, I can charge the batteries off the existing grid (when it works). I can even charge them from a generator. I can charge them from a car. I can charge them from solar. I could probably even ride a bike connected to an alternator (another $20 junkyard part) and charge them. Car batteries grow on trees. In fact there’s 1.4 of them for every breathing American at the moment and they’re only going to get cheaper as Priuses start showing up in the junkyard. For two I can charge my MR2 and the lawnmower from the solar setup here. There’s no reason why you can’t just put jumper cables from the MR2 or the tractor to the batteries. For three, most of the parts are cheap or free once you buy into the rectifier and inverter. You’re looking at $200 for the whole setup, or $300 to make it nicer. If you want to go seriously high end you can spend $600 for a 6KW, 12KW peak 50A power inverter. I’m sure you can find it cheaper on ebay.

How much do you really need? The government guessdimates that you need 14.5KW a day in summertime (about 600W an hour). Doing the math you can see our low end inverter there (1.5KW sized for a reason) will run about 20 hours running full tilt assuming the batteries aren’t total crap and you have more than one. I used five of them for my math and the health of the battery is frankly a crapshoot.

Now, there’s a choice, and I’m hoping the more electrically inclined readers caught this. You could just unplug the fridge from the wall, plug it in here and forget about it. You could plug the oil burner in here and forget about it. It would probably work great for these two and it give you two more plugs for lamps. In fact that’s probably the safest way to do this. If you want to drive the house off it, you could use the incredibly dangerous male-to-male extension cord and plug it into the wall socket once you disconnect yourself from the grid. However this plan was never designed to run through the house wiring. If you do try it, you’re on your own and you’re strongly advised to buy the proper phase-matching circuits. These are spendy which is why they’re not represented here – I’m not trying to build a solar power plant. If you skip it and wire it directly anyway, you’ll blow a breaker if you’re lucky, if you’re unlucky you’ll set the wiring on fire, and if you’re REALLY unlucky you’ll be on the grid when the power comes back on and you’ll have phase mismatch and your power company will beat the living hell out of you if you live through the resulting explosion. Don’t do it. If you’re really interested, grid-tie starts at $1000.

Speaking of wiring: hows the wiring done? The batteries are dead simple and wired in parallel. You can’t possibly screw it up. You wire all the same poles together, put the charger on one side of the rail and the inverter on the other side of the rail keeping positive to positive and negative to negative and you win. You could stack a thousand batteries like this and you still win. The rub is on the solar panel side. You need, on a cloudy day, to generate a minimum of power to get the rectifier to turn on. On a sunny day this means you’ll be generating far too much power. Solar panels, therefor, are a game of wiring things in both series (to hit the minimum voltage) and parallel (to hit the minimum amps). The longer the parallel run, the more current it produces. The longer the serial run, the more volts it produces. The rectifier will turn on at a minimum of voltage and do it’s thing until you hit a maximal of voltage. In our case, that particular Sunforce product I linked to accepts up to 100 watts @ 7 amps by 12 volts. The voltage on solar panels is the game to play. Since that rectifier will only accept up to 12 volts, you wire the individual cells in series (postive-to-negative) until you hit 12 volts at sunrise. Once you’ve got a few of those, you wire the assembly in parallel (positive to positive) to the rectifier, trying not to exceed 7 amps. For whatever strange reason people seem to just make these huge strips of cells. The problem is that by doing this you waste any excess power you make – it gets converted to heat. Since we’re dealing with DC, we don’t need to worry about phase matching, but if you buy 10,000 individual cells like some of these idiots suggest, you’ll explode something in short order.

Oh, you could just skip all the solar stuff and charge the batteries from the wall socket. PECO price caps and all that.

I bought grape vines

As usual lowes/home depot has shit on sale which is half dead. The way the one around here works is you have several display trays. Each tray has plants in various conditions ranging from “fresh off the truck” (expensive) to the next tray which is “a few weeks old” (half off) and “dead” (almost free). The quality of the plant varies according to price, the freshest ones are mostly unmolested by their untrained hands to the virtually free ones usually being devoid of leaves, broken off or somehow on fire.

I think most of the problem at home depot or lowes is they don’t give a shit about the product and don’t know anything about it. God help you if, for instance, you want to buy parts for your lawn mower.

The is a constant problem. As I’m looking through the grape vines I ask an employee if I should be using 10-10-10 fertilizer or 30-0-0. He looks at me and hands me a bottle of Home Depot fertilizer. Now, not only is the ratio and concentration of ingredients not listed, but I later looked it up and people suppose it’s 30-30-30. The correct answer for first year vines is 10-10-10, I could have diluted the stuff.

But this ties into what’s going on – the people don’t give a shit. When your stock is nonperishable this is an OK situaiton to be in. When you’re talking plants, this is not where you want to be, which is how stuff gets moved to the next table. That being said, there was a catawba grape vine which, hope against hope, had managed to live through the abuses of home depot long enough to make it onto table #2 while keeping some of it’s leaves. Not knowing if it’s self fertile or not I checked for another one – there wasn’t another one which was plausibly alive. Normally priced at $10 a vine(!), the clerk rang it up for $4 and now I’m in the wine business.

Planting is the easy part, of course. Dig a hole, fill in hole, dump some fertilizer on it and let nature do it’s thing. Next year come back and dump more fertilizer on it and if the plant is lucky train it a bit.

Grapes, as I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures, grow on something. Most people when they think grapes immediately skip to the stupid “overhead arbor”. I’m not sure who came up with this but it’s not something which is traditional; In fact it’s actually called a pergola. The tradition is to plant the vines against a T – a cross made of wood – which gives the grapes something to climb and forget about them. That being said a pergola, while not being originally intended for grapes, is what my wife wants. Grapes don’t really like being on pergolas, the foliage has a tendency to layer and this isn’t good for grapes. Pergolas have been around for millions of years but almost always stuck to flowing vines or any other plant which also made decent ground cover. Ground cover is genrally shaded under something, so when the plant eventually runs out of pergola to cover it grows back on top of itself and makes a layer.

What do grapes grow on then? Antiquity would have grapes growing on stakes. The romans would simply drive a stake into the ground, and let the vine climb that. About halfway to three quarters up they’d start the pruning. A crossmember made the top of the T and supported new growth. The vines could probably support themselves after many years but the stake was never actually removed. The big advantage to this system is the grape never really needs pruning because it can’t go anywhere. The disadvantage was also obvious – vines would eventually get so long they dropped to the ground. The French, being a bunch of boy lovers, actually made laws about how you could stake your grapes which only served to consolidate the grape growing regions into a few companies. The spirit was to force people to make higher quality grape vines, but I also tend to think the politics of the plant are what made this law. The methods of vine training are numerous and the debate about genetic copyrigt is clearly as old as western civilization.

But going back to the point – American grapes are grown on a wire and post system and this is what my grandparents had. Drive two posts in the ground, about four feet high, have wires at two and four feet heights, maybe six if you’re going for the gold, and they planted their grapes about four feet apart. As the vine grows up, you train the branches along the wires and let it grow up until it gets to the top. This gives you several layers of leaves and a lot of horizontal room for grapes. The grape vines naturally grow along the horizontal runs until they counter each other at which point they knot off (self-prune) or they continue on (less likely) until each wire has an incredible legnth of vine on it. The fruit denity is maximized here.

In fact this design of wires and posts has been how to build a trellis for vineyards in America almost exclusively. For as long as you have the space, you can make a trellis. If you’re really nuts about it you don’t even need to do this in a straight line. There’s nothing that says you can’t have a trellis which gently curves down the hillside with each successive post routing the wire a bit to the left or right. But again, my wife is not interested in a trellis, she’s interested in a pergola. A pergola sacrafices routing and ease of harvest for asestetics.

If you’re buying one commercially, they tend to start at $1000 and up. There’s a particularly ugly one you can make on instructables for about $300. There’s a small enough to be useless one which is sort of the spirit of the project. We’re going to make one completely different. It’s going to be completely custom. Why? There’s no “standard size” porch, so buying a premade pergola doesn’t do shit for me. We also have a brick patio, but you guessed it, there’s no standard size for those either. Finally because of the building code, the township has specifically enacted a program where you can’t build anything like this without inspection. However inspection only applies to permanant structures, so if it’s not concreted to the planet it doesn’t count.

You probably guessed where this is going. Standard deck parts the entire way. We need 4x4s for the posts and they fit directly into concrete footers. Because the footers aren’t going to be buried, it’s not a permanant structure. To top it off I’ll frame it in with 2x6s or bigger. But the question is, how do we actually top off the pergola?

Pergolas normally have slats for the top, as deep as they are apart. The idea is that it’s like a giant blind. The sun shines at some angle and it shades the area below it while allowing the breeze to move around. Pretty slick, but since we’re already worried about the canopy I don’t see a reason to further shade it. More on the point a grape in the sun ripens faster. Grapes in the shade are prone to all sorts of weird rot. What we don’t want are shaded grapes. More on the point when considering alternatives we need to ensure whatever we put up there is reasonably rigid. The more I think about it the more I want to do the roof with wire fencing. Not only is it rated to outdoors abuse, but it’s supposed to have animals leaning on it and generally making a mess. Also at 2×4 inch mesh (about 50mm by 100mm), it’s big enough to let grapes and leaves go through it while not being so sparse as to allow the vines to fail to find support. Most of all its incredibly thin, so it won’t shade by itself.

The big question I was left with was “will it support the weight of the vines?” Probably not. More on the point I’m not entirely sure if the mesh is open enough to really let the grapes through. Given that a grape leaf can be as big as your palm or larger, I felt there was a serious potential to create an absolutely worthless understory. Not good. What other materials are out there which are similar? In standard artisan fashion I decided to cruise the store with my grape vine until something came to me. If the grape vine could talk it probably would object, but I finally hit the far end of the store where people stop dressing nicely and start wearing torn jeans and terrible boots. By the Ghost of Kurt Cobain I found it! Turns out concrete remesh is exactly the size I need. Not only is it thick enough to pour concrete on, not only is it designed to be pulled on and pushed on, but it’s got enough space in the mesh to fit my plam through. We have a winner.

Expect pictures when I redo the brick work on the deck.

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.

Oh God, Housework

Thankfully my inlaws are awfully crafty people. Things I’ve learned about houses:
1) Some people are masking-tape people, some people can do it freehand. I’m a masking tape person. I would rather put on 2 widths of tape and waste time doing that so I can use a huge roller than delicately try to paint small parts.
2) You will learn awesome things at every breaker box you work on. Every single house I’ve done any electrical in has had fun ideas about how all this works.
3) Your wife will buy color samples and use them everywhere. Including surfaces you hadn’t previously thought about painting.

Stuff we did this weekend:
The one toilet needed a new float kit. It would fill but periodically leak. If you lifted the float up just a bit it would stop drawing in the water. When I went to bend the plastic arm, I broke it.

The upstairs toilet was a write off. The fatass who owned the place before me broke the porcelain around the water tank where it connects to the bowl. When we bought the place I turned it off. As I was trying to flush it with the water off to drain things, the water tank broke around the handle. Still waiting to see if the trash service here actually picks up the mess. Of course, as we’re trying to remove it, it’s breaking more and more and more and we finally realized it didn’t have any structure. We just tapped it with a hammer until it came up, which was fine because the closet bolts (what holds the toilet to the flange) were rusted fast anyway.

The wax ring which came with the new toilet was too shallow, but we had enough foresight to buy a new, jumbo ring which did the trick.

WHY DID HE PUT THREE PRONG OUTLETS IN WITH NO GROUND? We ended up figuring out there was a ground wire run for a distance and fished our stuff to that. However, 11 outlets later and we figured out that not only were some of these hot splices with no breaker on them aside of the mains, some of them were plain wired backwards. Which is fine if you have a lamp, but plug a computer in and kiss it goodbye.

’nuff said. I suck at spackle. I am, however, the king of using the large roller without runs. I also prefer to mask with tape rather than freehand paint the edges.

Oil Tank
The clowns who sprayed the basement for mold, mildew and whatever else sprayed over the sight-glass on my oil tank. As I was crawling my way back there I realized there was a shallow pool of kerosene under the hard line to the tank. These guys had managed to step on the line between the heater and the tank as they were spraying. Not only did I have to clean off the sight glass but thankfully some messing around with the compression fitting got it to seal. The bad news is that the next time it happens, I need a new compression fitting.

Car Fun
Of course, the Camry’s ignition system finally quit while I was out running down paint. Thankfully it only needed a new cap and rotor but the igniter is obviously not put in a user serviceable location.

Carpet Cleanup
I thought those carpet scrubbers were busywork until my father in law brought his over. I was going to replace the carpets myself but that thing really does a fantastic job of getting stains out of carpets. We’ve got one of the hoovers (second or third hand at this point) and we have a light blue carpet upstairs. The den carpet doesn’t look so hot because it was next to the mud room, but it lifted the mud right out of it (although it needs a second pass) and the upstairs light blue carpet with coffee stains (I hope) came right up with only one pass.

1) Refinish hardwood floors
2) Powerwash the deck, seal it
3) Repoint the chimney

Then at around 7pm last night I came down with a 100.7F fever and promptly collapsed.

The Jarmidor: Do It Yourself Humidor

I like cigars, and I like pipe tobacco, but I can’t see myself making it more than a once a week or possibly even more infrequent hobby. However, it’s a waste for me to buy two ounces of pipe tobacco or a few cigars and let them sit in the fridge. I wanted a humidor, but I didn’t quite want a huge box. The bigger the box, the harder the element has to work to keep things moist. So I knew I wanted a closed system in smaller but reliable format. I also am cheap.

Everything you need to make a jaridor

Everything you need to make a jaridor

Everything you need to make a jaridor. That’s a single sponge from CVS (but I have four), scissors, two salt shakers from walmart (get the barrel kind), two flip top jars which seal (toss the dessicant packets) and the gel. The gel I was trying to source from elsewhere but it can’t be done without matching the cigar shop cost of $10 for enough to fill one of the jars.

Shaker and sponge.

Shaker and sponge.

Here’s a shaker and a sponge. Notice how the sponge is the right height for the shaker. Lucky us. Peel the label off the shaker and ensure you can unscrew the top. It need not fit well, but you do want the sponge to be the correct height.

Cutting the sponge.

Cutting the sponge.

Notice the sponge is cut here. We can use the lid for the width guide. We could probably also worry about the depth but the goal isn’t to occupy the entire volume of the shaker with the sponge.

Finished shakers

Finished shakers

This is what this needs to look like when it’s done. Notice the sponge fits in without being compressed. Also notice there’s space at the edges. This will be important later when you put the polyethylene glycol (“PG”) in. It lets you sight into the glass without opening the humidor and shake things up. The top of the shakers is open so salt can pass through, but in our case it keeps our tobacco out and lets moisture pass through. Why PG instead of water? Well with water you could do it by weight, but you end up doing a lot of math for the standing water. Since we know about how much PG we need for an affinity to water, this lets us use any amount of stuff (I used about a quarter of the bottle) and still hit the correct humidity. Also with the standing water solution – or water only – you run the risk of the water condensing anywhere it feels like. With PG, you’re assured it’s going to be wicked up out of the atmosphere if this system forces the water to condense. Now, a note on these sponges. After I cut mine up and assembled these, I noticed a rubber smell. I took hot water and ran it through a few times to get the smell out. The gaskets on the jars had no detectable odor so I let them go dry.

The whole thing assembled

The whole thing assembled

This is what the whole jaridor looks like right before we fill it with sweet, sweet adult candy. Notice you can see in the side at the level of PG as the humidor works.

Sweet Sweet Tobacco Products

Sweet Sweet Tobacco Products

And there you have it. A note on the pipe tobacco – just leave the bags open if you have two smaller bags like I do and stuff them both in. In the future if you want to dedicate an entire jar here (five ounces of tobacco by my guessdimate), you can get rid of the bags entirely since the top of the salt shaker should keep the tobacco away from the PG. You may want to move the shaker to the top if you do this. But, for general use, we can put two bags in there with the tops open and it will still be properly humidified.

Now, a note on adding poly glycol, the stuff comes premixed and PG doesn’t evaporate. The proper ratio is 50/50 water/PG, so when the level gets low (if it can possibly get low in this setup) then add water. The bottle I have says “ADD MORE PRODUCT” but you’ll end up closer to 33/66 if you do, which will quickly hurt your efforts.

Happy smoking.

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!