Sunday, December 26, 2010

Major Score!!!

I have mentioned that I have decided to get into kegging my homebrew.  I have dutifully started doing research and comparing prices.  On a whim, I checked Craigslist for keggerators (the ones that serve commercial kegs).  There were three types or price points represented.  The first and most expensive were the commercial units.  While they were super cool, the cost was anywhere from $600 to thousands of dollars.  The second group were the specialty appliance category.  A specially made kegerator sold commercially for home use.  These are the units that are the size of a 1/2 barrel keg and fancy enough to park in your kitchen or recreation room.  The used prices on these ran $300 to about $600.  The last category were the home made and converted refrigerators.  These were solidly in the $200-$300 range, some slightly less without a co2 tank or some other critical component.  The problem with the converted fridges is that they also usually look like shit and come with a full freezer (who needs that?).

So imagine my surprise when late one night up pops a full kegerator system with an old school 1930's fridge for $100...not only that, the co2 tank is a 20 pounder (most  of the $200 systems come with 5 pounders).  The problem is that it is in Gilcrest, Colorado.  Gilcrest, in case you don't know, is about 50 miles north of Denver, about 3/4 the way to Greeley up US Highway 85.  I tossed and turned all night, and in the morning on a whim, decided to call on it.....and it was available, but I couldn't get out there until later in the evening.  I expected it to be long gone, and from the sound from the guy who was selling it, it had a lot of interest (no wonder, it is cheap).  I was surprised that it was available that evening, so I went to see it.

It was a beast.  It was owned by an old guy, who hadn't used it in 2 or 3 years, but it was set up by his son (who was a refrigeration mechanic) so it had good parts.  The fridge itself was a Westinghouse and yes it was from the 1930's or 40's, maybe 50's, it was beat to hell and dented on the top but it still ran.  I got the fridge, the 20# tank with some CO2 left, a CO2 regulator, a Sanke tap, a chrome plated brass faucet, a Miller Lite tap handle, a stainless steel drip tray, an empty keg, and all the hoses and fittings....for $100.  A similar system purchased new from Northern Brewer with a 5# tank and no fridge costs $263.  The 20# tank new would be $125, the regulator $75, the Sankey Tap$30, and even the drip tray new would be $30 and the empty keg will save me $50 when I go to get a new keg of beer....probably a $250-$300 value for $100.  I was feeling pretty good.

But, it gets better.  After hauling the fridge down to my home and muscling it into the garage for the night, I discovered that the fridge weighs well over 200 pounds!  I used to work for an appliance retailer and I used to move appliances by hand all the time, but I could barely move this 4 1/2' tall fridge.  I decided that there was no way this was going to fit in my basement.  I have my chest freezer that I converted for use as a lagering/fermentation chamber.  I can use that with very little modification.

So, I put the fridge on Craigslist....and sold it in an hour for $40.  I guess I should have asked for more, because it was gone fast and I had multiple people calling for it.  So, I got a fridgeless kegerator system for $60.  After cleaning all the hardware, I purchased new hoses, and new connectors, as well as the stuff to put homebrew in (the 5 gallon Corny Keg and connectors), but also bought a gas manifold to use both kegs (and future unbought kegs) simultaneously.  All told, I spent another $100.  All I need are a couple of two by sixes, a keg of beer, and another faucet or two, some time and I am in business.

I hope to rig it for use with one commercial keg by my birthday.

Monday, December 20, 2010

End of Summer/Happy Dark Day

I cracked open my last Summer Beer.  I had been saving it to send to friends back East.....sorry Brent, but we are now closer to next summer than last....I will brew more.  Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice.  It is the holiday that I believe in and the day that I celebrate....well, that and Festivus.  It is my Christmas and New Year's rolled into one.

It is the day that I like to crack open a high gravity beer and think about stuff.  I have one of our Holiday beers from 2009....but I am saving it for my brother in law....he helped craft it last year in the bitter cold, I figured he should at least get the spoils of a well aged beer.  I will go buy myself something appropriate from the liquor store....perhaps Delirium Nocturnum or Noel, perhaps a St. Bernardus, or an appropriate Christmas Ale.

I didn't get the chance to brew as much as I would have liked, but as with each new year comes a renewed hope for brewing the perfect pint.  I am looking forward to a few things.  I have a couple of projects sitting waiting for me including remounting my pump in an enclosure, and installing a false bottom in my boil kettle.  I have already purchased everything.  In February, I should take delivery of a new Hot Liquor Tank from Stout Tanks giving us a three vessel system.  I may be interested in attending the AHA National Conference in San Diego.  I am highly considering jumping into kegging....and will have to make modifications to my fermenting chamber to accept both that and kegerator duties.  If I can brew slightly more than in 2010, it will be a victory.  I may even start some thought into a brewery name and branding....I have some leads and connections....

Oh, and I really need to make repairs to the man cave-garage-brewhouse (aka the decrepit building where we brew when at my house).

If you were wanting to make donations to my fictitious and non-profit brewery as yet to be named.....for this Solstice, I am wishing for a 100' potable water hose, a stir plate,  an eremyer flask or three, jacketed 1bbl or larger conical fermentors, any large capacity tanks or kettles, a 3bbl brewing system (from Stout or other) or an automated system (or anything from Sabco), an in line whole house water filter, a lifetime membership to the AHA, or better yet, a 1 year membership to the BA, any length of silicon hose, any equipment or funds towards my kegging system, tri-clamp fittings, brewers gloves or brewers boots, a floor drain or about 100 square foot of warehouse space (with a floor drain and a roll up door).

Happy Darkest of Days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mission Accomplished?

I got a text message from a friend back in Detroit.  It read: "Drinking a toasted, hemp seed, and potato double "Twice Baked" IPA at Lib St.  This means he was drinking a Double IPA made with Potato and Toasted Hemp Seed at the Liberty Street Brewery in Old Town Plymouth.

Two thoughts immediately came to my mind:

1. Who are you and what did you do with my Friend?
2. You are Welcome.

On Number One:  My friend has been known to drink Michelob Ultra by choice and a Double IPA is too much beer for even me (actually just too much hops for me).  Knowing both of these items leads me to believe that my friend has been abducted by some hop head craft beer drinking criminal, or Double IPA doesn't mean the same thing in all parts of the country.

A Double IPA is a high starting gravity beer with hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma to match.  Some would call it balance, I call that bullshit.  It is a conveyance of hops and alcohol.  But, local variances do exist in the beer world.  For example, the American Amber Ale is a starter craft beer (medium gravity, medium hops) in many parts of the country, but on the West Coast, it is a red or amber IPA.  I call them West Coast Reds, but even my homebrewed version of a Westie (West Coast Red) is no where near as bitter or high gravity as the ones found commercially in California, Oregon, and Washington State.  Racer 5 is an excellent example of a West Coast Red from Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg, California, while Pliny the Elder from the Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California is an excellent example of the Double IPA style.

Even if Liberty Street's Double IPA is a highly drinkable beer (not exactly to west coast standards), I am lead to thought number two:  You are very welcome.  I have been plying my friend with decent homebrews and dragging him to breweries at every turn for at least 15 years.  I have finally rubbed off on him.  And you are certainly welcome Liberty Street, as while he had been there without me, he has started going there on a regular basis.  I am glad he has abandoned the Rusty Nail (the trailer park version of a bar) as his regular hang out.  If my friend can convert to naturally choosing better beer, anyone can.  This says good things for the local craft beer movement.

My mission continues, but this is a nice milestone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Equipment Addict

Hello.  My name is g, and I am an equipment addict.

Hello g.......

Ok.  I admit it.  I am addicted to equipment.  I can't help it, it is in my nature.  I love beer.  I always have, and I liked brewing ever since I started, but it used to be about making BEER.  Now, with all of my "toys", it is now about MAKING beer.

My mom tells a story about me when I was too young to remember.  I was at my Aunt and Uncle's new house either while it was being built or just as they were moving in.  I must have been around three years old.  I was found "operating" a radial arm saw.  I have a hard time believing this story, as I have all of my hands and fingers, and am still alive.  The story is my mother's way of explaining who I am.  She calls me a "button pusher and knob puller".  In this description, she probably couldn't be more accurate.  As a child, my favorite toys were tools, equipment, and appliances around the house....any complex machine with knobs and buttons would keep me busy for hours as I systematically figured out how to work them or incorporated them into my fantasy play.

My dad, an electrical engineer and all around handy man had lots of ancient electrical testing equipment (with scopes, and meters and vacuum tubes), an old adding machine, one of the first generation scientific calculators, old hand drafting equipment, power tools, stereo name it.  I played with everything, and knew how to operate everything that worked, and took apart just about anything with moving parts.  Some things I got back together....and others, well, I am pretty certain that it "just broke"...the official story is one of denial.  I am sure that this comes as no surprise to either of my parents.

This brings me back to brewing.  I liked brewing beer when it was extract brewing in a couple of buckets and a 5 gallon pot, but now that my brewery involves the use of pumps, valves, and fittings of all sorts, I am kind of in a state of nirvana.  This holiday season I have on order a 20 gallon stainless steel hot liquor tank (HLT) with professional tri clamp fittings, sight tube, valves, thermowell, and an internal stainless steel heat exchanger.  The HLT will allow me better control of temperatures and volumes while speeding my brew day. I am expecting to take delivery of this beast by February....and man I couldn't be more excited!  I know this means nothing to most readers.

Taking delivery of the HLT will require a lot of work tuning our systems to work with the new stuff.  It will take many brewing sessions to dial in, and yet it will only serve to point out other deficiencies in our system to correct, and require modifications of others.  This should keep me busy, this should keep me happy....But, I am not satisfied, either.  My brain has moved on.

I woke up in the middle of the night convinced on moving away from bottling and into a keg system....which will require that I either buy another freezer or fridge or juggle my fermentation and keg storage in my converted chest freezer.....more equipment.  My 40 year obsession with making things work.  Call it applied technology.

I am a child of industry.  I like smokestacks, and assembly lines.  I like valves, pumps, and control systems.  I like shiny stainless steel and fire and steam.  I like beer.    Ich bin ein Detroiter! Ich bin ein handwerk brauer!  

I probably require professional help or an intervention of some sort.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What a Rush!!!

I am a pleaser.  That is, I like to please people.  Nothing feels better than making people happy.  I have a limited experience with this in my professional life; my professional life consists of research and problem solving....the problem solving usually does not involve making people "happy", but rather, coming to a conclusion that most parties don't like, but "can live with".

So, it is nice to be able to please people once in a while.  

I have found in my hobby that revolves around beer, I have done a bunch of cool stuff.  I recently made a list of breweries and brewpubs that I have visited, and I keep recalling more everytime I remember somewhere else I have been....the list keeps growing.  I have served beer at festivals, and have had the pleasure of serving beer to some rather famous brewers, and having casual conversations with others.  But, for the first time ever, I have served my beer to strangers.....

I had the idea a while ago, and had the chance today.  I packed up my homebrew and headed off to Strange Brewing, where I have had an enjoyable experience with the barstaff and the homebrewers turned pro.  I mentioned as I was ordering that I had homebrew in my car trunk and wondered if they would like some.  Of course they said yes (who wouldn't really).  I pulled my beer out and served them, but also served the few other patrons in the bar.  Complete strangers.  I got really favorable reviews of my brown ale and oktobserfest/marzen, but really, really, rocked with last year's Christmas ale.  The West Coast Irish Ale's reception was somewhat tepid to favorable.  I get it, and understand.  The beers I love were well received.  It wasn't scientific, it wasn't judged by beer judges against everyone's best efforts and it wasn't an honest or blind focus was just me, serving beer, and getting a thumbs up from people across the bar.

Who cares about anything else?  Really?