Starting From Scratch: Building a Setup

Well, after the Breaking of the Fellowship, our brewing has been sparse. Tim, the only one living with brewing equipment, was without a stove, Paul only recently was able to brew, with his friend’s setup, and I was dealing with a roommate who was looking for a reason to get me evicted. Eventually I decided my roommate would just have to grow up and realize he didn’t get his way all the time (this prompted me recieving an empty threat that I was ‘getting an eviction notice tomorrow for brewing beer’, a laughable claim, that has yet to even earn me a landlordian repremand).

So what kind of setup did I want? What pieces did I need/want, and what could I do without? Having pieced together our setup in Ann Arbor over more than a year, I knew what was important, what was convienent, and what I could overlook. These were the things I had to get, and my options for them:

  • Sugar Conversion – Mashtun OR Only be able to use malt extract
  • Brew Pot – Large pot + stove OR Turkey fryer
  • Cooling System – Copper wort chiller OR Use of sink
  • Fermentation Vessel – 6.5 Gal Glass carboy OR Ale Pale
  • Carbonation/Storage – Spigoted Ale Pale/Bottling OR Kegging kit

Part of the fun of brewing is mixing your own grains and mashing them. Only using malt extract is easier, but other than the initial startup cost of a mashtun, the per batch cost of extract is much higher. I went with a 10 gallon rubbermaid mash tun using a modified ( read the instructions and made it up as I went along once I got to the hardware store) version of these instructions.

For the brew pot, I spent some time shopping around, but I actually was able to find a 7.5 gallon turkey fryer for less than I could find a brewpot of the same size. While this route also took the purchase of propane, it was totally worth it, but more on that later.

For cooling, I was able to find a wort chiller for about $45 dollars, but I hadn’ scrimpt on anything yet, and with the time savings from the turkey fryer, I figured I’d go cheap here. 45 minutes in time savings isn’t worth fifty bucks to me… at least not right away.

The final two items I was able to pick up as a package deal, along with other odds and ends I needed (thermometer, hydrometer, etc.) from Adventures in Homebrewing. For a little over $200, I was able to get a kegging kit, ale pale, and 5 gallon carboy. The other option was to drop the kegging kit and get a wort chiller, brewpot and a spigoted ale pale, but for 20 bucks more. Given my feelings about kegging (it’s awesome and easy) vs. my feeling about bottling (it takes too long, and requires hoarding bottles) I went with the kegging kit.

Now, all in all, this totalled up to about $350. Sadly, I also needed to get it to where I live. This added a good $200s in shipping costs, because the Vail Valley is apparently more difficult to ship to than Valdez (hyperbole, but not by much).

In addition to my order from Adventures in Homebrewing, I had them pack in a Wee Heavy recipe and shipped it out. Sadly, the autosyphon that shipped was damaged in transit, but everything else arrived safe and sound in less than a week.I finally got my shtuff together, found a friend to give me a hand and brewed. All went well, aside from a slight snafu involving the airlock seal on the ale pale leading me to think the yeast was dead, leading me to rush to the nearest brewery to beg for some active yeast, only to get home, open the pale, to find a nice layer of krausen on top… Always double check your grommets.

I have yet to fill up my CO2 tank, to keg the brew, but it is now fully fermented, and I eagerly await getting it all done (I did snag a taste of it from the carboy, as well as a gravity reading: A bit strong, and a little more dry than I was hoping, but should be a fantastic brew).

Barely Whining Barley Wine

Our most ambitious beer we’ve done, this beer also took us the longest to brew, and has involved the most maintenance while fermenting (no blowoff tube makes life hard…). As we can only fit about 12 lbs of grain in our mash tun, this was a partial mash, with some added liquid malt extract.


  • 10 lbs 2-Row
  • 1 lb 6-Row
  • .5 lb Flaked Barley
  • .5 lb Roasted Barley


  • 6 lbs Liquid Pale Malt Extract


  • 2 oz Northern Brewer (11.4% AA) 90 minutes
  • 1 oz Cascade (7.4% AA) 10 minutes


  • Wyeast 1098 British Ale Yeast

We mashed for about 2 hours at 160ºF with 4.5 gal of water. We ran the mash through an additional time, then sparged with 170ºF water another 6-7 gallons. We ended up with about 10-11 gallons of liquid in the boil. As we only have a 5 gallon brewpot and 2 other medium sized pots, we spent about 3 hours boiling down the wort. Eventually (after slowly adding more and more of the runoff to the boil, along with the 6 lbs of malt extract) we got it down to right around 5 gallons.

  • OG: 1.119

After this yeast has run it’s course, we will add champagne yeast to dry out the beer to dry it out. As it stands, we’ll be lucky to get the beer to finish at 10% ABV, with a final gravity around 1.040 (for comparison, our Simple Bitter original gravity was around 1.048).

Weisen: First Taste

A week after bottling day, it was time to test out the weizen. Pouring into the glass, it made a decently large head, which retained pretty well. It had a citrus-y smell, and the color was golden, if a little cloudy. The taste was similar to Blue Moon, if a little more citrus-y (without adding fruit to it). The first sip seemed to be pretty well carbonated, but after that, there wasn’t much bubbliness to it. This was also the case with the Pale, though I presume it will get a little more carbonated as secondary fermentation continues.

We tried two separate bottles of the stuff, one of which was just slightly cooler than room temperature, and the other of which had refrigerated overnight. The first one tasted a little more flat than the cold, and it was harder to taste the alcohol content, which was surprisingly high (appx. 5.5%, if I recall correctly) for a wheat beer.

This is a good summer beer, and for the second brew in a row, I’m pleasantly surprised at how the batch seems to be taking shape. Tomorrow will likely be bottling day for the Peanut Butter Porter. Yum!

Bare-Bones Basics #1: How is beer made?

Beer has been made for over 10,000 years, but how? What’s happening in those big vats in the brewery downtown? How is it possible to produce beer in your kitchen? Don’t you need specialized equipment?

Well, first off, the reason beer has been made for 10,000 years is because it’s an incredibly simple process:

  1. The starches in grains (generally barley, but there are many different options that will produce various beers) are ‘mashed’ to turn into a mixture of water and sugars called a ‘wort’.
  2. Usually (but not always), small green flowers called hops are added, adding flavor and aroma. Hops also act as an antibiotic to help in the next phase.
  3. Yeast is added to the wort. Yeast is a fungus that eats sugars, and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste products.
  4. After all the yeast has died, the beer is ready to drink.

Now, obviously you can’t throw a handful of wheat into a vat with yeast and say “beer!,” but that’s the nuts and bolts: Make wort, add yeast, wait.

Why Homebrew?

Thinking about homebrewing? Well, here are some great reasons to take it up as a hobby:

  • Depending on how willing you are to buy large quantities of malt/grain, you can make good beer cheaper than you can buy it in the store.
  • Creativity! You can experiment to make a unique beer you can call your own.
  • Depending on your state, it may be legal for you to brew and drink your own beer even when you’re under the age of 21.
  • You can only learn so much about beer without making it yourself. If you really want to ‘know beer’ you should know what makes each beer taste the way it does.
  • Amateur competitions. Local homebrewing clubs have frequent contests, sometimes with prize money, too.
  • It’s an interesting sub-culture. Local clubs are filled with other beer geeks who simply love beer and it will afford you an opportunity to spend time around people with whom you share a common interest.
  • Satisfaction. Nothing beats cracking your first beer of a batch, tasting it, and knowing that you made beer. It’s awesome.

Any other reasons? Share them in the comments.

Notes From Brew Day 2

The pictures may tell the story, but it’s certainly worth noting that round 2 of brewing was far less… frantic… than the first go-round. That’s obviously to be expected, as we learned a lot of lessons from the first brew day to apply to the second. Among them were:

  • Following one set of instructions only, instead of trying to hybridize several different sources.
  • Buying a bottling bucket for mixing the wort(which we’ll obviously clean and re-use on bottling day).
  • The bucket also allowed us to more easily measure the specific gravity.
  • Buying distilled water to add to the mash to make the wort (we’ve since learned that distilled water is unnecessary, but if we wanted distilled water, this was certainly much easier than boiling it ourselves).
  • Having homemade tools (i.e. Vodka handle funnel) ready-made this time.
  • Buying ice to cool the wort ahead of time, so we didn’t potentially kill our yeast by adding it to a still-hot liquid.

Of course, I think one of the cardinal rules of homebrewing dictates that, since we were so much more confident this time,our batch is going to turn out poorly, just to remind us to remain humble before the Beer Gods. We’ll find out at intitial tasting in a couple weeks.