Tuesday, 23 August 2016

DIY Beer Brewing

I love beer.
I mean, I love good beer. But, unfortunately good beer is not cheap.
A bunch of years ago, a group of my buddies and I who got together regularly decided to check out a local u-brew. We thought it would be cool if we could get a bunch of high-quality beer for the price of the cheap stuff.
We were right, and as it turns out, our local brew house is pretty awesome. They have a lot of different recipes to choose from that closely resemble many of the most popular beers from around the world.
After letting The Brew House do all the work for us the first few times, I decided to join them and learn more about the brewing process myself. I was hooked.
As the years passed, everyone in my beer-drinking group either moved away or life got in the way. However, I still loved beer, so I continued visiting The Brew House regularly.
For Christmas a few years ago, my brother-in-law gave me an awesome book: The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in homebrewing or the brewing process in general.
Full of inspiration, I set out collecting the equipment needed to brew my own beer at home. With help from the good people down at the internet, I was able to do so staying true to my frugal nature.
Here’s how I do it:
Beer Brewing Equipment.jpg
I started with extract brewing because it is easier and I was have no trouble getting my hands on all the ingredients I need. With this process, the two key pieces of equipment are the boiling pot and the fermentor.
I actually have 2 brew pots, but the one I use the most often these days is the one pictured. It simply is a large round roasting pot that I bought at Canadian Tire for about $12. It came with the wire lifting rack, which I thought I wasn’t going to need, but I found a creative way to use it that you will see later.
As for the fermentor, I bought 3 5 gallon carboys off a guy on Kijiji for $40. Recently, my wife stumbled upon a 6.5 gallon one at a yard sale for $12 and bought it for me.
The rest of the equipment are cheaper items I collected at either the thrift or hardware store. I use an old metal spatula to stir my brew and an old saucepan as a nice, big ladle.
One unnecessary item I use and highly recommend is a muslin bag. Putting your grains in a bag makes it infinitely easier to remove them. As said, it is not critical at you strain out every bit of grain, but it makes your beer clearer in the end.
Beer Brewing Ingredients.jpg
These are the ingredients I used for this brew. This is a recipe I cobbled together myself to make an amber coloured IPA. I like how simple this beer is to make and it is easy drinking but has more flavour than most big commercial beers. I dry-hop with cascade hops and I love the aroma they add. I had to steadily add more to this recipe until I was finally happy - I could probably add more and may try that in the future.
I love darker, maltier beers, but I’ve struggled to make a great one with extract and my sources say that it’s something very difficult to do. I have high hopes for when I get around to all-grain brewing.
Beer Brewing Steeping.jpg
Here’s what it looks like after a few minutes of steeping. You can see the grains in the bag floating nicely and I use a thermometer to keep an eye on the temp. If the water gets too hot, the grains will burn and you will be able to taste that in the finished product.
Beer Brewing Boil.jpg
After 30 minutes of steeping, the grains get removed and the malt extract and some hops get added. This is where I discovered that if I turn the lifting rack upside down, my mason jars fit perfectly in the gaps. This allows the malt to drip out slowly and the steam will clean the jar so I can get every last drop.
While this is happening, I need to stir constantly so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. I also toss in the hops that need a full 60 minute boil. It takes some time for the liquid to reach a full boil and it goes through what is known as the hot break. This is where a thick foam develops at the top and you need to wait for it to break apart and fall back into the liquid before you can move on.
Once it’s finished boiling, it’s time to strain and sparge. (I lost my picture somewhere in the cloud.) Using my pot ladle, I scoop out as much as I can and pour it through my strainer into a carboy. Depending on the amount of hops I use, sometimes I need to use my stir spatula to help the liquid drain by turning the hops in the strainer. As I get near the bottom of the pot, I can safely pick up the pot without spilling any and burning myself to dump the remaining wort into the fermentor.
Beer Brewing Fermenting.jpg
Now that all my hard work is done, it’s time for the yeast to do its job. After sprinkling the packet into the carboy, I stick a 1-inch hose into the top and run it to a pail with a bit of water in the bottom. This way, most of the crazy bubbles created during the violent early fermentation can blow off and not fall back into my beer. These apparently leave a very bitter flavour, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve always done it this way.
After about a week, fermentation slows down so I can remove the hose and switch to a fermentation lock. At this point, I add the dry-hops and let it sit for another couple of weeks.
Beer Brewing filling equipment.jpg
When I finally find the time, I set about getting my sweat beer into bottles. First I boil some sugar water and put it in the freshly cleaned pail. I then quietly siphon the beer on top of it.
With that done, I attach my racking cane to my siphon and start filling my bottles. I took the tough task of drinking many bottle of beer that came in bottles with a flip-top lids. It was hard work, but now I have a sizable collection to bottles I can reuse and don’t have to worry about capping. I do have a bag of caps and I will from time to time use them, but it just takes longer so I don’t like doing it.
Beer Brewing bottles.jpg
Even after the bottles are all full, I still need to wait a couple weeks to let the beer condition in the bottle. This allows the beer to naturally carbonate, but I have to admit, I usually break the seal on the first bottle after about a week - it tastes good, but it is a little flat.
After all is said and done, I have about two and a half cases of quality beer at the cost of less than $1 a beer. I also enjoy the process and look forward to doing an all-grain brew in the very near future.
Beer Brewing finished product.jpg

Do you like good beer and make it yourself? Do you like to enjoy high-quality brew at less than half the price you can buy it? Tell me in the comments how you do it.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

DIY Shampoo

Shampoo Title.jpg
Maintaining an awesome beard has become a daily passion of mine. At any moment, if you looked on my computer it’s not uncommon to find a beardcentric web page hiding in my taskbar.
It didn’t take me long to stumble upon sites and posts advocating dedicated beard wash. I was intrigued as I was just using the cheap regular shampoo I had always been using on my head. What was the big deal?
What I learned the more I read was that all modern commercial shampoo was bad for your hair - all of it. Instead of just cleaning and letting your natural oils do their job, common shampoos strip your hair of everything, good and bad, and then the conditioner coats it in silicon and other unnatural gunk to make it feel smooth and soft.
I found several respected makers of dedicated beard shampoo. But, as my name suggests, I’m too cheap to actually buy any of them. If you want a high quality, all-natural product to show up at you door without any work on your part, give one a try.
What I did do though was closely examine the ingredients. Since I was already making my own beard oil and balm (and hair wax, I guess), I checked with the good people down at the internet to see if I could make my own shampoo, too.
Here’s my trials attempting to make a quality shampoo:
Shampoo equipment.jpg
Initially, shampoo/soap-making seemed quite daunting. While my wife already possessed all the required equipment, she used most tools regularly to make our family meals and wasn’t too keen on me using them to make soap.
Thankfully, one day I happened upon an old crockpot at a thrift store for $2. The pot’s coating at the bottom was chipped off a bit, but since I wasn’t making anything that we were ingesting I was okay with that. (I also have ideas of finding out if I can repair it eventually.)
The other key tool is an immersion blender. Like the crockpot, my wife wasn’t willing to let me use her good blender for my beard shampoo...at first. I also found an immersion blender at the thrift store, but to be kind, it was more of a toy.
It was this fact I made two attempts using two different recipes pretty early in my soap-making career, but more on that later.
The other items needed to make shampoo are just various mixing and measuring tools. As for a mold, you could really use anything, but I used an old bread pan my wife didn’t want anymore.
Instead of bowls, I just used an old mason jar. And, I bought my wife new wooden spoons (don’t tell her they were only 99 cents), so I claimed an old, cracked one and made it my dedicated shampoo/soap-making spoon.
I have a cheap food scale I use for beer-brewing, and I just reused it to measure my shampoo ingredients. It’s not as precise as some recipes would like, but I’m not worried about being accurate down to .01 of an ounce.
Shampoo ingredients.jpg
As mentioned, I made two different recipes. I have to admit, I didn’t fully read the first recipe - I just looked at the ingredient list and they closely matched a popular beard shampoo bar. That was good enough for me.
What I didn’t notice was that it was not a hot-process recipe. What that means is that instead of cooking the ingredients in the crockpot, you only warm them to make mixing easier. Then you need to let the shampoo bars mature for 4-6 weeks before you can use them in the shower.
Also, because my blender was tiny and designed more for whipping the Baileys into your coffee than turning liquid oils into a pudding-like consistency, my mixture never got as thick as I believe it should.
When my arm finally got tired, I gave up and poured it into my mold anyway and placed it in a cool, dark place.
Shampoo almost finished.jpg
While the recipe said it would take 24 hours to harden then I could cut it into bars, when I checked mine a day later it was still quite soft and oily. I waited another day, but it was still semi soft.
Thinking I had failed, I dumped it onto a cutting board anyway to see what it looked like. Apparently it was only to top quarter-inch that wasn’t solid. I’m guessing my soap wasn’t mixed well enough and the oils separated.
Shampoo cutting.jpg
Taking that into consideration, I cut what I had into half-inch thick bars and placed them onto a baking sheet to let them dry. Maybe they would still be salvageable.
Still thinking I failed, I searched for a different recipe. I also gushed to my wife how easy all the equipment was to clean. I was angling to get her to let me use her good blender on my next attempt.
It was not difficult to find another, even easier recipe, and I scheduled a time to make a second batch. I liked this recipe because it only had 3 ingredients - coconut oil, water and lye.
At the last minute, I convinced my wife to let me use her blender, on the condition that I clean it very well. I managed to screw that up a bit, but everything was fine in the end. I still got a lecture, though.
This time everything went well and exactly as it should. Despite my anxiety, within minutes my shampoo looked like a coconut pudding.
After letting it bake for 45 minutes, it looked all fluffy and there were no puddles of oil.
At this point, I could have bought pH strips to ensure that all the lye had done its job, but, come on, I’m frugal.
Instead, I used the “zap test.” I let a small amount cool, and then put it on my tongue. If it were to zap me, then the soap was not done. But, mine just tasted like soap, meaning it was finished baking.
I don’t really know what would have been better, getting shocked or having the taste of soap in my mouth, but at least it didn’t cost me anything. And, a few swigs of homebrewed beer got rid of the taste quickly enough.
I was warned that this recipe solidifies quickly, and becomes very hard, so I only needed to give it a few hours before cutting.
Shampoo attempt 2.jpg
It had been about a month since I made my first batch of beard shampoo. It had dried out quite a bit, but it still left an oily residue on my fingers whenever I checked on it. Regardless, I thought I would give it a try anyway.
Conveniently, I had the perfect conditions to test both shampoo bars on the same day. My family and I had just spent the week at a cottage, so needless to say, I needed a good wash. Also, my wife and I had a rec soccer game later that evening, so I definitely was going to need a shower after that.
After a quick beard trim, I hopped in the shower with a bar from attempt number one.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very impressed with how well it lathered. It was quite easy to use and my hair felt clean and smooth after I was done - it rinsed off completely with no fuss.
I finished my shower off with an apple cider vinegar conditioner I quickly mixed up - 1:5 ratio of vinegar to water.
Shampoo Conditioner.jpg
To be honest, I was pretty amazed. Our soccer game wasn’t going very well, and I spent more time than I should have playing with my hair and stroking my beard because it was so soft.
I also have to confess: I’ve never been one to really use conditioner. It’s been over a decade since I’ve hair longer than a quarter-inch, so I never bothered. But, now that I’m letting my hair grow out, I genuinely enjoyed how my hair felt after the first wash with my homemade shampoo bar.
I also read that initially your hair can feel a little gummy as it takes time for the new all-natural shampoo to remove all the junk you’ve been putting on it for the past however long. I haven’t noticed that, but it could be that since I never used conditioner much, I have less bad stuff on it.
When I was finally finished embarrassing myself on the football pitch, and drowned my sorrows with a few wobbly-pops, I was back in the shower. This time I brought a fresh coconut oil shampoo bar.
Entering with the same hope as my last experience, I was surprised that this one lathered quicker and produced even more suds. That caught me off-guard, but ultimately this shampoo bar returned very similar results as the first one.
Shampoo finished product.jpg
I don’t know which one I like better. Since they work equally well, I think I’m leaning towards the all-coconut oil one, simply because it was easier to make and we can start using the first bar within a couple hours.

What do you think about my beard shampoo-making experience. Do you think you could make your own healthy beard wash?

Monday, 25 July 2016

DIY Dining Table

A few years ago, my wife and I bought our first home. We didn’t have a lot of money and were expecting to buy a fixer-upper like a lot of people do with their first house purchase.
After looking at a few that just didn’t work for one reason or another, we asked our realtor to show us a house that we knew was a little out of our price range. Big mistake - the house was perfect!
A century home that the previous owner had completely gutted and renovated up to modern standards. But, here’s what really got us: he kept and reused all the original trim, thus retaining all the charm of an older home without any of the hassles.
After talking (read: beg, plead, grovel) to our parents and having a close look at our finances, we decided to make an offer. It was below the asking price, so we weren’t too hopeful. However, as it turned out, I went to highschool with the owner and he was willing to negotiate.
To our delight, instead of buying a starter house, we were moving into our dream home!
While that was great and all, we were now officially poor.
After living with our tacky, old, and sometimes broken, furniture for a while, I decide to figure out if I could make some items that would be cheap, yet a lot less embarrassing. After consulting with the good people down at the internet, I learned that I could.
The first piece I decided to replace was our dining room table. Here’s what I did:
Dining Table top.jpg
Since I didn’t have many tools at the time, and even fewer skills, I kept the project as simple and straight-forward as possible.
As, mentioned, the previous home-owner reused as much of the original character pieces as possible, and that included the doors. However, the renovation involved the removal of a few walls to create more open areas. As buyers, we loved that, and as an owner, I appreciated that he kept the doors that were not reused.
I picked my favourite, and took some measurements. After a quick trip to my local glass shop, I had a piece of ¼-inch glass on order.
While I waited for my glass-top to arrive, I focused on figuring out how to suspend it above the floor. I was told about the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and paid them a visit to see what I could find.
Dining Table legs.jpg
What I came home with were 4 mismatched, unused banister newel posts. They were plenty long and strong enough, and I liked that they didn’t match as it would add to the character. My wife decided that red would be our accent colour, so after cutting them all the same length, I bought a can of red spray paint to finish them off.
I found a long piece of 1-inch diameter dowel in amongst the other materials, so I cut a few pieces off to use as pegs to attach the legs. I also bought several small L-brackets at my local hardware store to add further stability.
To hide the hardware, I used a piece of baseboard trim. The house has beautiful wide hardwood baseboards, and the previous owner had purchased some newer replicate trim which he ended up not needing. I chose one of the newer pieces as to not ruin an original.
When the glass I had ordered came in, I assembled the table. All-in-all, it went together quite easily and all the tools I needed were a handsaw and an electric drill. I used a little sandpaper by hand to clean up my cuts, but other than that there was little else I needed to do.
Dining Table finished product.jpg
I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. It’s not something you would see somewhere fancy, but it can comfortably seat 8, matches the style of our house, and is unique.

What do you think about my dining table? Have you done something similar in your house? Let me know in the comments below.