Wednesday, 26 April 2017

DIY Beer Brewing - All-Grain

As I’ve mentioned before, I love beer. I’ve taken to brewing my own at home, and I find it an enjoyable and relaxing experience.
Until now, I was only able to buy the ingredients to do extract brewing. This was okay as it taught me the basics, but it doesn’t offer nearly the same level of flexibility with recipes. I was itching to be more creative.
Recently, my good friends and neighbours (#freighbors) tipped me off to a new homebrew supply store opening up locally. A quick check with the good people down at the internet confirmed this and I was able to find their contact info easy.
However, even after following Short Finger Brewing on social media for a few weeks, I hadn’t paid them a visit because...I don’t got in the way. I had several different excuses, but I was genuinely interested in checking them out.
Finally, while writing my post about how I brew with extract, I decided to actually look at the map and see where they are located. To my amazement, they are literally in my office’s back yard.
With this newfound information, I immediately sent them an email and made arrangements to drop in the next day.
For my first attempt, I didn’t want to try a recipe too advanced. All-grain brewing requires some different pieces of equipment, and I didn’t know how well my homemade gear would work.
Beer Brewing equipment.jpg
As you can see, all-grain brewing requires many more large pieces of equipment. While a good size brew pot and a fermenter is all you need for an extract beer, all-grain needs a few more items.
Like most things, there is more than one way to skin a cat. That said, there are different methods to sparge the grains. I will get into the specifics later, but based on the equipment I had at my disposal I had to batch sparge. This means I only need one mash/lauter tun, but two pots.
For my pots, I use my brew pot for extract brewing to heat the strike and sparge water, and a large turkey fryer as my brew pot. This way I can boil a full 5 gallon batch with no issues as the turkey fryer is large enough that it won’t boil over unless I’m completely negligent. And even if it does, since I’m outside it won’t be as devastating as it would be if I were in the kitchen.
While I had to buy my pots, I got to use my handyman skills to make my mash tun. I have a buddy who has access to a lot of coolers that his work just tosses out after they are done with them. He was kind enough to grab one and give it to me for free.
This one didn’t have a drain, but since I was going to replace it with a ball valve anyway, this wasn’t an issue. I carefully drilled a hole and inserted my valve construction.
Beer Brewing mash tun valve.jpg
I realized as I was doing so that the rubber washers I had were slightly too small, and even though I doubled them up, they are stretched too far. As a result, if I’m too rough opening or closing the valve it leaks a little. It doesn’t seem to drip any other time, so I think it will do for the time being.
To create my filtration system, I paid a visit to my local hardware store and picked up a cheap braided washer hose, a copper plug, and a couple hose clamps. When I got home I cut the ends off the hose and struggled to pull the steel braid off the rubber hose without stretching it too much.
Ultimately, I was successful and then it was simply a matter of attaching one end of the braid to the drain and fitting the plug in the other.
Beer Brewing mash tun inside.jpg
With that done (and obviously a good clean), it was time to start brewing.
My first attempt I bought a preassembled kit and followed a recipe made by the awesome Rob at Short Finger Brewing. It was easy and meant for beginners. It didn’t have too many different ingredients or complicated timing.
Beer Brewing ingredients.jpg
To start, I heated the strike water in my small pot. When it was the right temperature according to the recipe, I dumped it into my mash tun and poured all the grains on top of it. After a good stir to make sure there were no clumps of grains, I closed the cooler, set the timer and walked away. It was almost too easy.
I didn’t take too long of a break, however, as I needed to start warming my sparge water. I mentioned that I needed to batch sparge, which means I simply add more hot water all at once and then drain off as much liquid as I need.
Eventually I would like to build myself a system that will allow me to fly sparge, meaning I could be draining from the mash tun into the brew pot at the same time as the sparge water was going into the mash tun. Fortunately, there is no significant disadvantage in the way I do it for this recipe, so it is what it is for now.
Since the pot I am using to heat the strike water is half the size of my brew pot, I needed to sparge in two batches. I was worried about this, but I was told that it would be okay.
Here’s how the mash looked after the first sparge:
Beer Brewing mash.jpg
I felt my filter worked quite well and I didn’t have to vorlauf too long before I was getting clear runnings.
And here you can see my poor setup and my brew pot half full of wort waiting for the rest of the sparge water to heat up:
Beer Brewing sparge.jpg
Eventually I had enough sweet goodness to start the boil.
You know the saying, “a watched pot never boils?” Well, I changed it to “a watched pot never boils over.” I hovered over my wort, spray bottle in hand, making sure I had as little sticky mess to clean up as possible until the hot break occurred. It felt like hours, but without too much drama I was eventually able to toss in the first hop addition.
Beer Brewing boil.jpg
As I said, this recipe wasn’t too complicated and pretty soon all the hops were bathing in deliciousness. However, the next step was the most worrisome for me.
The boiling wort needs to be cooled quickly so it can be transferred to the fermenter without breaking it or picking up any nasty bacteria that would be all too happy to enjoy my soon-to-be-beer before me. I like to share, but that’s not the company I want to keep, so I tossed in my sad, handmade wort chiller and hooked up the garden hose.
Beer Brewing cooling.jpg
Again, it’s far from pretty, but it did its job.
After that, all-grain brewing is exactly the same as extract. Put the wort in a fermentor, pitch in some yeast, wait, transfer to a secondary fermenter and add dry hops (optional), wait, bottle, wait...finally enjoy.
Beer Brewing finished product.jpg
Cheers! Let me know in the comments below if you brew your own beer at home. Also, if anyone wants to donate another cooler so I can fly sparge and stay within my frugal budget of zero, I’d appreciate it.

[Update] I made a couple mistakes during my first attempt, but I learned from them and have found ways to correct them. My subsequent batches have been much better.
The first issue I ran into was relatively minor and had an easy fix.
I had trouble knowing the accurate temperatures with the thermometer that came with my turkey-fryer. From then on I use our meat thermometer which gives a much more precise digital readout.
The second mistake ruined the brew, but thankfully had an even cheaper, simpler fix.
As I was draining from my mash tun into my brew pot, I realized I had no way to measure how much liquid was going in the pot. I just guessed and was very wrong and ended up boiling an extra gallon of wort, which threw my gravity way off.
To solve this problem, I took a piece of dowel I had laying around and cut a notch in it at the level I needed. Not the least bit fancy, but it works. (I’ve since just marked different amounts on the outside of my brew pot in Sharpie and that does the job well enough.)
As I said, with these two adjustments my second batch tasted as it should. Now I’m just excited to try new, more advanced recipes.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

DIY Pallet Coat Rack

Every homeowner knows there’s no such thing as a lazy weekend at home. Honey-do-lists are never ending and once one project finishes, another magically appears to take its place.
So, beginning to get on a roll, I turned my attention to other problem areas in my home.
Our rear entry is a small landing that leads up to our kitchen, or down to our unfinished basement. There’s very little room for clutter, but the small, simple hooks we moved in with couldn’t handle everything we were throwing at it.
Now, I know coat racks are not expensive. Heck, a couple of nails in the wall will do the job. But, I had some leftover material from other projects and I wanted to do something fun and unique. So, after a quick meeting with the good people down at the internet, I came up with plans for a quirky, yet functional, homemade coat rack.
Here’s the finished product and how I made it:
Pallet Coat Rack 2.jpg
Very simple and straightforward, yet with a little charm, too.
I used a quarter of pallet left over from my liquor rack project. I also cleaned up an extra slat I could use as a shelf. The shelf is just held in place by a few scrap 2x2 pieces.
For the fun part, I picked up a handful of spoons at the thrift store for a couple dollars. I drilled holes in the centre of the...spoon part, and then bent the handles so they could act as hooks. After that, it was just a matter of screwing everything in place.
After a quick sand and thin coat of varnish, my DIY Pallet coat rack was mounted on the wall.
Pallet Coat Rack 3.jpg

What do you think about it? Could you fit one in your home?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

DIY Captains Bed

Captains Bed 2.jpg

Having solved our dining table situation, I turned my attention towards issues in other rooms.
I love our master bedroom. It was originally the attic, but the previous owner gutted it and made it liveable.
It probably wasn’t a difficult decision as it’s naturally a great space. While it technically is only a half story, the roof has a high peak creating a high ceiling, and large windows on three sides let it plenty of light. It’s fully finished with two crawl spaces and a small walk-in closet.
All the troubles we were having revolved around the furniture we owned before moving in. We were able to tuck our long, low dresser in the closet, but due to the slanted ceilings, out highboy only fit in front of the windows - clearly not an option.
This meant I needed to get creative and see what the good people down at the internet had done.
Here’s what I came up with:
Captains Bed 1.jpg
To start, I used Ana White’s plans for a full-size storage bed. I took a few measurements and made a few adjustments to make the plans work for me.
The biggest alteration I made was on the inside. Since we have a queen-size mattress, I beefed up the centre support. I had some 2x4’s laying around, so I just used them. Now I know our bed can handle any “extracurricular” activities we engage in.
The other change was more rudimentary. I took a quick trip to Walmart and bought a few storage baskets. Knowing how big they were, I simply moved the divider on the side cubbies, and added another, so the baskets would fit nice and evenly.
With that done, it was building time. I went to my local lumber store to pick up the materials I still needed - I let them cut the plywood into the widths I needed - and was back home in no time.
Assembly was quick and easy, too. Since all I was essentially making was three boxes, I was able to do everything in my workspace in the basement and then move it all upstairs after I was completely done.
To finish off, I just stained the trim pieces to add a bit of contrast. To complete the look, I took an old door I had sitting around that was original to the house, and mounted it to the wall to act as our headboard.
Captains Bed 3.jpg
And that was that. All in all, it was a pretty quick and easy project. It may not be the prettiest bed anyone has even seen, but it is solid, easy to move, and very practical.
I use the baskets on my side to store most of my clothes. The end cubby is open and that’s where we keep extra blankets and quilts so we can quickly grab one if we wake up cold in the middle of the night. I don’t know what my wife keeps on her side, but I’m sure there’s all sorts of stuff in her boxes. (That sounded a lot dirtier than I meant it.)
Captains Bed 2.jpg

What do you think about my homemade bed? Let me know if you built one yourself in the comments below.